And I'm not the only one who isn't convinced. A Harris County ADA testified against the bill on the Senate side, countered by a slew of bail bondsmen. On the House side, only the criminal defense bar spoke in opposition. Perhaps most notably, Carol Oeller of the Harris County Pretrial Services Division wrote to the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, in relevant part:
I am opposed to SB878 which had a hearing this morning before the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee.With respect to Oeller, even eliminating Section 2 wouldn't make the bill okay by me; the whole thing is a bad idea. Judges in several jurisdictions including Travis County allow partial bail despite a much-disputed Attorney General's opinion to the contrary. The process works fine here and elsewhere, according to testimony in committee. SB 878 would conform state law to the AG's opinion, but why not go the other direction and maximize local control? The jails are too full of pretrial defendants, why not let counties try this method if it works better ? I won't be unhappy if this bill never gets a vote in House Criminal Jurisprudence, or dies a lonely death in the House Calendars Committee.
However, I did not testify against the bill as I understood Senator Whitmire and Representative Madden had agreed on a committee substitute whereby Section 2 of the bill would be removed. Section 2 was my main area of concern, although in its entirety I believe the bill begins to codify a monopoly for the bail bonding industry at the expense of judicial discretion, public safety, and local jurisdictions’ fiscal stability. I am writing to you now in case the committee substitute that minimizes this impact succumbs to the frenzy accompanying the waning days of session, and the committee considers passage of the bill as filed.
Regarding fiscal stability, jurisdictions employing the practices that Section 1 of the bill proscribes – accepting a partial amount of the bail required, will lose flexibility to manage some costs associated with a criminal case, such as those associated with incarceration or appointed counsel. Considering the budget issues the State and local jurisdictions are facing, institutionalizing, rather than banning this type of system would be more supportive of local justice system operations.
Excising Section 2 from the bill at least will preserve some judicial options to construct release conditions that are appropriate to an individual defendant’s risk for pretrial misconduct. Conversely, its passage will eviscerate judicial discretion and impede jurisdictions’ abilities to employ evidence based practices; it will do nothing to advance system effectiveness while simultaneously imparting financial burdens.