Congress needs to curb dangerous bail-reform laws.
This op-ed originally ran in the Washington Examiner on May 27, 2022
By Reps. John Katko and Nicole Malliotakis
In 2020, New York state rolled out new criminal justice reform laws that eliminated cash bail and expanded pretrial release for several misdemeanor and felony charges. Since that time, thousands of violent criminal defendants have been released back on to our streets, free to wreak havoc in our communities.
Last year, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) appointed us to the American Security Task Force. This working group was tasked with formulating a legislative plan to restore public safety. Republicans are ready to implement this strategy when we retake the House in 2022.
As New Yorkers, we have seen firsthand the tremendous failures of bail reform. Most recently, New York’s bail reform law allowed a man with more than 24 arrests — including armed robbery, drunk driving, and various gun charges — to be released while awaiting trial. He went on to open fire at a crowded Brooklyn intersection, sending crowds of people fleeing for safety.
A central element of our plan is to curb these dangerous laws nationwide. Inspired by listening sessions we’ve held with the New York City Police Department and law enforcement agencies from across the state, we developed and introduced a bill that would bolster public safety and give prosecutors the tools they need to hold violent repeat offenders accountable.
Our bill, the SERVE Our Communities Act, would provide new federal funding to states for programs that help struggling individuals avoid incarceration. For a state to be eligible, it must first take sensible steps to expand police hiring, combat anti-police sentiment, or, critically for New York state, enact a "dangerousness standard" that would allow judges to consider a defendant’s danger to the community when making bail or pretrial release decisions.
Without such a standard, judges are limited in their ability to consider the risk an individual poses to public safety when making bail or pretrial release decisions, and by extension, prosecutors are limited in their ability to make this argument in court.
This bill has received overwhelming support from the law enforcement community. We can and should take sensible steps to improve our criminal justice system while simultaneously investing in our police and preventing repeat violence.
Despite overwhelming evidence that proposals such as ours are badly needed, Democrats in Albany have failed to address the pitfalls of bail reform adequately while the far Left in Washington wants to go even further to weaken public safety.
By now, we are all familiar with the misguided "defund the police" movement, which House Republicans have staunchly opposed. However, less known is a proposal called the No Money Bail Act, a measure written by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) that would build off of New York state’s bail reform laws and completely eliminate the use of cash bail nationwide.
Originally introduced in 2016, this proposal has been reintroduced in every subsequent session of Congress and even attracted the support of Vice President Kamala Harris. When it comes to keeping our families and communities safe, we can’t afford to go backward. We must prevent these radical policies from reaching our communities.
Republicans are committed to restoring public safety. When we retake the House this year, we will come prepared with a clear-eyed legislative plan to curb dangerous bail reform laws and make New York state and our country a safer place for our families.
John Katko represents New York's 24th Congressional District. Nicole Malliotakis represents New York's 11th Congressional District. They are both members of the Republican Main Street Partnership.