Legal Aid pushes back on Gov. Hochul’s State of the State address

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul delivers her State of the State address in the Assembly Chamber at the state Capitol, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023, in Albany, NY AP Photo/Hans Pennink

Following Gov. Kathy Hochul’s State of the State Address on Jan. 10, The Legal Aid Society released a statement that was largely pushed back on a lot of what Hochul said.

During the speech, Hochul discussed bail reform, and called on legislators to eliminate a requirement that pretrial incarceration for bail-eligible charges be the “least restrictive” option. Legal Aid called this a continued effort to scapegoat bail reform.

“Her call to eliminate a requirement that pretrial incarceration for bail-eligible charges be the ‘least restrictive’ option accomplishes nothing of value and is in tension with the well-established United States Supreme Court precedent protecting the presumption of innocence,” said a statement issued by LegalAid. “As legislative leaders have noted, continuing to falsely scapegoat bail reform only distracts from community investments and reforms like the Treatment Not Jails Act and Clean Slate.”

Legal Aid was also not pleased with a proposal to add funding to District Attorney offices to hire additional prosecutors, and pointed out that public defense funding has been flat for years while prosecutors have other funding sources.

“Moreover, her funding proposal for District Attorneys to hire additional prosecutors ignores the immense needs of public defender organizations, which share the same staffing, operational and financial needs,” the statement said. “New York City public defense funding has been flat for years despite rapidly escalating operational costs – including rent, healthcare and collectively bargained salary increases – that prosecutors cover through other funding sources.”

On Hochul’s plans to prioritize affordable housing construction, Legal Aid called for more immediate action and suggested “Good Cause” legislation to be passed along with the Housing Access Voucher Program. It says the two initiatives would better help keep families safely housed and off the streets and shelters.

“While we are heartened that Gov. Kathy Hochul plans to prioritize statewide affordable housing construction, tenants need relief now,” said Legal Aid’s statement. “’Good Cause’ eviction legislation, along with the Housing Access Voucher Program, are two initiatives that would keep families, the majority of whom are from Black and Latinx neighborhoods, safely housed, off the street and out of the already burgeoning local shelter system .”

Legal Aid pushed for the Right to Remain Silent legislation to be passed that would help prevent minors from being coerced into providing false confessions.

“For New York to live up to its purported progressive ideals, Gov. Hochul and the Legislature must prioritize forward thinking measures over the past failed policies to serve our most vulnerable neighbors better,” Legal Aid said. “The Legal Aid Society looks forward to working with lawmakers to achieve this goal in the coming days, weeks and months.”

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