The Oneida Daily Dispatch (Oneida, NY)

NY governor pledges new psychiatri­c beds, bail reform talks

- By Maysoon Khan and Michael Hill

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York Gov. Kathy Hochul stressed her commitment to public safety in her annual address to state lawmakers Tuesday, pledging to expand the number of available beds in psychiatri­c treatment facilities and to again tackle the politicall­y sensitive issue of bail reform.

The Democrat outlined the plans during her annual State of the State speech, her first since New York Republican­s gained electoral ground in November after casting their opponents as soft on crime.

Hochul also unveiled a plan to create more affordable housing, partly by pressuring municipali­ties to get rid of bureaucrat­ic red tape and ease land-use rules that have made it tough to build multifamil­y housing, particular­ly in New York City’s suburbs.

She said the proposals, if adopted by lawmakers, could spur the creation of 800,000 new homes over the next decade.

“We will make New York safer. We will make New York more affordable. We will create more jobs and opportunit­ies for the New Yorkers of today and tomorrow,” Hochul told lawmakers and dignitarie­s jammed into the state Assembly chamber.

Hochul, who was elected in November to her first full term, enters the new legislativ­e session trying to strike a balance between the demands of the liberal wing of her party, which has enjoyed more influence in Albany in recent years, and centrists who are worried that incrementa­l movements to the left have sent some voters back to the Republican­s, who had been nearly bereft of power in state politics.

In an effort to tackle untreated mental illness, particular­ly among homeless people, Hochul announced plans to add 1,000 beds for inpatient psychiatri­c treatment and create 3,500 housing units to address gaps in the state’s mental health care system.

The more than $1 billion, multiyear plan also would increase insurance coverage for mental health services, expand outpatient services and create greater accountabi­lity in hospital admissions and discharges.

“We have underinves­ted in mental health care for so long and allowed the situation to become so dire, that it also has become a public safety crisis, as well,” Hochul said to enthusiast­ic applause. “New Yorkers are anxious on the subways and in our streets when they see individual­s who need help.”

The plan would direct statelicen­sed hospitals to reopen 850 inpatient psychiatri­c beds that went offline during the pandemic, and would lead to 150 new adult beds in state-operated psychiatri­c hospitals, including 100 in New York City.

Hochul said the state would provide capital investment­s and operating funds for 3,500 new residentia­l units. That includes 1,500 supportive housing units serving people with

serious mental illness and 900 transition­al step-down units.

Hochul also expressed interest in revisiting bail policy with state lawmakers.

A sweeping bail law approved in 2019 did away with pretrial incarcerat­ion for people accused of most nonviolent offenses. Supported by progressiv­es, the law has been tweaked since then amid criticism from Republican­s and some moderate Democrats that it has deprived judges of a tool they could use to hold people likely to commit new crimes.

Hochul stood by the goal of bail reform, but said lawmakers could not ignore New York residents who say crime is their top concern. The issue is widely believed to have cost Hochul and her fellow Democrats votes in the last election.

She called for a “thoughtful conversati­on” during the budget process to make improvemen­ts to the law.

For instance, judges are now required to choose the “least restrictiv­e” means to ensure a defendant returns to court, as opposed to considerin­g how dangerous they appear. Hochul favors eliminatin­g that “least restrictiv­e” standard for serious crimes, according to the governor’s plan.

State Sen. James Skoufis, a Democrat who long advocated for change in the bail reform law to give judges more discretion, said he was “heartened” to hear of the proposal.

But it was unclear how enthusiast­ic Democrats in control of the Legislatur­e would be to reopen the bail debate.

On housing, the Hochul administra­tion said the failure to build enough homes has resulted in high rents, out-of-reach home prices and workers leaving for more affordable states. While the state added 1.2 million jobs in the last decade, only 400,000 homes were built. The goal for the next decade will be to double that, she said.

Under the plan, localities will have a target for building new homes. Targets for upstate municipali­ties would be for the housing stock to grow by 1% every three years, and 3% every three years for downstate areas.

“Local government­s can meet these targets any way they want. They can shape building capacity, they can redevelop old malls, old buildings, office parks, incentiviz­e new housing production or just update the zoning rules to reduce barriers,” Hochul said.

Localities with downstate commuter rail stations would rezone to allow higher density multifamil­y developmen­t within half a mile of the station unless they already meet the density level.

 ?? AP PHOTO/HANS PENNINK ?? 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, N.Y.
AP PHOTO/HANS PENNINK 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, N.Y.

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