Photo by Tom Hilton, Creative Commons license 2.0

While they were busy saving democracy in Texas — or at least giving voting rights a stay of execution — by walking out of the state House Sunday night, Texas Democrats also put the kibosh on another top priority for Gov. Greg Abbott (R), a bill that would have made it much more difficult for people to bond out of jail without having the cash to pay for it. As the Texas Tribune explains,

After the Senate and House passed significantly different versions of House Bill 20, a group of mostly Republican lawmakers negotiated behind closed doors this weekend to arrive at a sweeping bill to change how and if people should be released from jail before their criminal cases are resolved.

Texas Republicans sure do love doing things in secret and then forcing a vote on 'em, huh? While putting the new version together, the Senate Rs removed a number of provisions from the House version that would have made getting bail slightly less onerous, because forget it, Jake, it's Texastown.


In recent years, when you hear about "bail reform," that refers to efforts to eliminate cash bail for most non-violent offenses, since bail can have terrible effects on low-income people. As Wonkette's Jamie Lynn Crofts noted recently when Illinois passed bail reform, cash bail is

a poor people's tax. It disproportionately hurts Black and Latino people and communities. It both criminalizes poverty and reinforces cycles of poverty. And it's not proven to make anyone safer.

That's not the kind of "reform" Texas Republicans had in mind. Instead, the final version of HB 20, which Abbott had declared an "emergency item" for legislative action, would have focused primarily on keeping people in jail for a wide range of offenses if they didn't have the money to post bond. The bill was pushed as a means of getting tough on violent offenders — or at least on violent offenders without ready access to cash.

HB 20 sought to clamp down on jail releases in several ways. It would have banned release from jail on personal bonds — in which cash is not required upfront — for people accused of violent or sexual crimes.

However, another major portion of the bill had nothing to do at all with violent crime. Instead, it was pure knee-jerk reaction to last summer's protests against police killings of Black people, and would have restricted the ability of nonprofit groups to bail people out if they were arrested during a protest. HB 20

would have prevented such groups from posting bond for people accused — or ever previously convicted — of a violent crime. Any group could still have posted bail for up to three people every six months, and religious organizations were exempt from the restriction.

The bill also added back in some provisions that the House had previously removed in response to justice reform advocates who had argued that they would hurt low-income folks without making anyone safer.

For example, some advocates worried that banning cashless release for those accused of low-level assault charges against police officers would target people in a mental health crisis, as they often resist being touched by officers and are then charged with assault. Requiring money bail in such cases, they argued, would keep even more people with mental illness stuck in county jails.

The Senate also added back a requirement that judges consider a defendant's citizenship status before granting bail, although immigration enforcement is a federal responsibility. Brownsville Democratic state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. pointed out when that provision was debated back in April that "Nothing in a person's citizenship status makes them more likely to be a flight risk," and he warned that the bill would encourage racial profiling, as if Texas law enforcement needed more encouragement.

The bill does at least reform some practices that federal courts have deemed unconstitutional. It would require that defendants get a court hearing within two days of arrest if they file a form claiming they're indigent. But even then, the Senate revisions added burdens that hadn't been in the House version:

The form would have required detailing a lengthy financial history, however, as opposed to the House's version of the bill which simply would have asked defendants to state how much cash they could get within 24 hours.

The bill was introduced to tighten up bail following a few high-profile crimes committed by people who had been out on bail, including the murder of a state trooper in 2017. But as the Texas Tribune notes,

[An] independent monitor of [Harris] county's federal court settlement over misdemeanor bail practices found that low-level defendants freed under a new system that let most people out without cash bail were not more likely to commit new crimes.

The settlement came after federal courts found bail practices in Harris County unconstitutionally discriminatory based on wealth. Federal judges ruled both Harris and Dallas counties allowed defendants quickly to walk out of jail if they had cash while poor people accused of the same crime with the same criminal history were kept in jail for weeks and months.

On the other hand, poor people don't give to campaign PACs, and they certainly don't vote in numbers comparable to scared suburbanites who are convinced crime is running rampant, so when Abbott calls a special session to take away voting rights, HB 20 will be included as a must-pass measure as well.

[Texas Tribune / Photo: Tom Hilton, Creative Commons License 2.0]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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