YOUR TURN - Sen. Tom O'Mara: 'Law and order keeps taking a back seat'

N.Y. State Senator Tom O'Mara

As this column is being written, we don’t know the final details of a 2022-2023 state budget still being negotiated by Governor Kathy Hochul and the Democratic leaders of the Legislature. 

N.Y. State Senator Tom O'Mara

We know that it will end up spending a ton of taxpayer dollars. In fact, it will turn out to be New York’s largest-ever state budget.   

We know that it will not provide nearly enough tax relief, mandate relief, or regulatory relief. 

At the beginning of this legislative session, I and my colleagues in the Senate and Assembly Republican conferences warned that public safety and security had to take center stage this year, that we have reached a point where too many New Yorkers in too many communities simply don’t feel safe.  

Most reasonable people agree that public safety is a fundamental responsibility and that state government is failing it. The latest evidence arrived in a new Siena College poll showing that: 

  • nearly 60% of state voters believe that the bail reform law approved by then-Governor Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature’s Democrats in 2019 has been bad for New York
  • roughly two-thirds of voters think that bail reform has led to an increase in crime statewide
  • more than 80 percent of voters believe judges should be given greater discretion to set bail based on the seriousness of crimes committed and on the basis of a defendant’s past criminal history.  

While Senate and Assembly Republicans have repeatedly highlighted all of the above – and more – since the bail reform law’s approval in 2019, this is not the thinking in this state government under all-Democrat, one-party control. 

Sure, Governor Hochul, clearly seeing the writing on the wall of public opinion, recently kicked out a 10-point plan to amend the bail reform disaster by proposing to fix at least some of what needs fixing. She said she wants it taken up in this year’s final budget. 

Her plan fell flat when it landed on the desks of legislative Democrats. Some leading Democrats have even gone so far as to criticize their governor for putting bail reform on the budget negotiating table at all. One Senate Democrat remarked that Hochul “injected something (bail reform) into the budget conversation that I don’t think belongs in the budget conversation.” 

Translated: We have no idea if there will be any changes as part of the new state budget. If Hochul had been serious about real reform to the debacle instituted three years ago, she would have included it from the start in her proposed Executive Budget.  At least then, the extreme Democrat majorities in control of the Legislature would have had to negotiate it out. That’s much different than the governor now trying to negotiate it in after the fact. 

Nevertheless, the progressive beat goes on in this state on issues of crime and corrections. 

Just days ago, the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) announced that at least 8,000 parolees – that’s right, at least eight thousand – would be released from DOCCS supervision by the end of March as the result of a new “Less Is More” law approved last September.   

The Less is More law does not factor in so-called “technical” violations of the parolee while on parole – such as failing a drug test, associating with felons, missing parole meetings, and breaking curfew – when calculating the shortened parole release date.  

Yes, this new law was also opposed by Senate and Assembly Republicans.  

On top of all of that, the New York State corrections officers union called on Governor Hochul to pause the implementation of another newly approved law restricting the ability of prison officials to discipline the most violent and vicious inmates by separating them from the general prison population.  Corrections officers say the new law, known as the “HALT Solitary Confinement Act,” will put officers at even greater risk of violence within a prison system where inmate attacks on prison staff reached record numbers in 2021 and are on pace to be even more serious this year. 

I’m not aware of any response from Governor Hochul to the officers’ concerns. 

In other words, for the foreseeable future, new laws already enacted (and under consideration) by this governor and a state Legislature under one-party Democrat control (with a largely downstate, far-left, extreme-liberal wing of the party firmly entrenched at the highest levels of decision making) has turned this state’s system of criminal justice into something that many everyday citizens simply do not recognize or understand.

Many New Yorkers are well aware that rising crime and violence, and weakened public safety and security, in so many of our cities and communities are the result of the pro-criminal policies being enacted and pushed at the state level.   

Albany Democrats have emboldened the criminal element throughout this state through failed bail reform, lenient parole policies, an out-of-control Parole Board, a terrible lack of attention to prison safety, cowing to the “defund the police” movement, and an overall careless approach to criminal justice.  

Last week, I once again joined Senate and Assembly Republicans, and representatives of law enforcement, at the Capitol to renew our call for doing the just the opposite.  We believe it’s long past time to strengthen public safety in this state. 

Safeguarding crime victims must be part of an ongoing criminal justice agenda geared towards restoring common-sense and public safety in New York. 

We will continue advancing legislation to better protect state correctional officers and prison employees by taking more aggressive steps to address the rising violence inside state prisons.  Inmate attacks on correctional officers, including numerous attacks inside the Elmira Correctional Facility throughout the past few years, should serve as a stark reminder that steps are needed to enhance safety for officers, prison staff, inmates themselves, and overall safety and security within the walls of our prisons.  

We need to stand up, speak out, and fight against the pro-criminal, anti-police mentality and policies that keep taking New York State in a dangerous direction, that keep emboldening criminals, and that keep making far too many communities less safe for everyday, law-abiding citizens and families.   

Public safety cannot keep taking a back seat to political ideology or political gain. 

New York State Senator Tom O'Mara represents the 58th District, which includes Yates, Steuben, Schuyler and Chemung counties and a portion of Tompkins County.