Friday, May 10, 2019

Bail-bondsmen amendments made 'reform' bill actively harmful

Texas' bail-reform legislation remains a mess and Grits has said for weeks the bills not ready for prime time during the 86th Texas Legislature. But after an amendment from the bail-bond industry was tacked on to HB 2020 (Kacal) yesterday in the Texas House by Democrat Oscar Longoria, "bail reform" has gone from a premature, ineffectual and pointless bill to an actively harmful one. (See the Texas Tribune for a quote-both-sides version of the story.)

According to our friends at the Texas Fair Defense Project:
The amendment would: 
REQUIRE money bond and disallow non-monetary bond, aka personal bond, for a huge number of people, including:
  • People who are charged with possessing just four grams of any controlled substance;
  • People who have a history of failure to appear after being released on personal bond within the last two years. Failure to appear is not defined and could include non-intentional failure to appear. Failure to appear rates are also closely tied with socio-economic status.
  • People who are charged with any level of crime that has a victim, including any level of assault. This means that a high school kid who gets in trouble for pushing a classmate would not be able to get out of jail unless he or she had money.
Codify bail schedules, which have resulted in litigation across the state. Bail schedules mean that anybody with money can get out of jail. This is particularly bad for a bill titled the "Damon Allen Act," since the man who killed Damon Allen was released because he had the money for bail, and so could have gotten out under this bill automatically (as could anybody with money). 
HB 2020 also now has an amendment that would put a bail bondsman on the new Bail Advisory Commission that will be making recommendations for pretrial detention practices, which will ensure that there will always be people with power on the commission who want to increase reliance on money bond. This would mean that wealthy people can get out of jail while poor people have to sit in jail until they take a plea bargain (even if they're innocent). 
HB 2020 is now the complete antithesis of bail reform. It will drive up pretrial detention rates, drastically increase jail costs for counties, and force judges to rely on monetary bond over any other alternatives. 
Yesterday's bill passed on a voice vote, but third reading votes are all on the record. I suppose there's some small hope that House members will vote against the bill or peel off the amendment, and they should. But if not, here's hoping Senate Criminal Justice Chairman John Whitmire will (please!) kill the bill in the senate.

The legislation cannot be "fixed" because the federal 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has yet to define the questions the Lege must answer. In two years, the 5th Circuit will have ruled in either the Dallas or Galveston litigation and we'll know what constitutional baseline the Lege must meet. Until then, this entire endeavor is premature, and now potentially harmful.

UPDATE: The House removed the Longoria amendment on third reading.

1 comment:

BarkGrowlBite said...

It's hard to beat the power of the greedy bail bond industry.