The bail bill and the quorum

Now that there’s a quorum (or a “quorum”, if you prefer) in the State House again, bills other than the voter suppression bill are getting hearings and will be moved forward for votes. Nearly all of them are terrible, and most of them will breeze on through, but some of them may run into some resistance. These bills may actually have trouble passing if there are enough Democrats to vote against them. I say all that as preamble to say that there are reasons why legislators who had previously held firm on breaking quorum may want to reconsider.

A Texas House committee controlled by Republicans held off on advancing their party’s priority bail reform bill after a four-hour hearing Saturday, during which lawmakers from both parties took aim at a provision that would bar most charitable organizations from posting bail for certain defendants.

The news came as a pleasant surprise to opponents who expected the controversial measure to advance after state Rep. Trent Ashby, a Lufkin Republican in charge of the committee, announced at the outset of the hearing that he would call for a vote before adjourning.

Reversing course hours later, Ashby said the committee would probably consider the bill at its Monday hearing on unrelated legislation, citing the need for lawmakers to address issues raised during public testimony Saturday. He did not say how lawmakers might amend the 35-page bill, though a majority of committee members — including two Republicans who voted to advance prior versions — appear to oppose the restrictions on charitable bail organizations.

“What difference does it make where the money comes from?” said state Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth. “If this is a way just to pay the bail bondsmen, let’s just say it.”

While Geren and state Rep. Travis Clardy, R-Nacogdoches, expressed newfound criticism of that portion of the bill, Saturday’s hearing otherwise closely resembled one held six weeks ago, when the same committee advanced an earlier iteration of the measure on a party-line vote.

Those who support the bill, most of whom are Republicans, continued to argue that the measure would crack down on the growing number of defendants charged with new felonies and misdemeanors while out on bond — a tally that has tripled in Harris County since 2015 — by limiting the opportunity for defendants to be released on no-cost personal bonds and giving judges more information about a defendant’s criminal history when setting bail.

The mostly Democratic opponents of the bill also rehashed their argument that the limits on no- and low-cost bonds would do nothing to curtail violent crime, with some pointing to a Houston Chronicle analysis that found most people accused of murder while out on bond in Harris County had secured their release by paying bail — a circumstance not directly addressed in the bill. They also say the proposed restrictions on personal bonds are overly expansive and would further overcrowd Texas jails, exacerbating an already massive backlog of cases that they say is mostly what’s driving the problem.

See here for the previous update. Let’s be clear about a couple of things. There’s plenty more about this bill that’s bad than just the ban on charitable organizations paying for bail. It would be simple enough for the Republicans to remove that provision (as they did with the “souls to the polls” and “make it easy for a judge to overturn an election” parts of the voter suppression bill), then pat themselves on the back and have it all declared to be fixed and vote it forward. They could also strip that provision from the House version, then have it added back in when it goes to conference committee. Dems have extremely limited power here, but if they are in full attendance that at least reduces the margin of error Republicans have, and allows for the possibility that the bill could just die because there weren’t enough votes for it. That’s a victory that has a chance to be longer-term. There are no guarantees – indeed, I’d call this scenario against the odds – but it could happen. But only if there are enough Democrats present to make that an actual possibility.

I’m not arguing for or against what any individual member should do at this point. There are still legitimate concerns for the remaining holdouts, and there needs to be a lot of work done to repair relationships where possible. All I am saying here is that now that there is a quorum, and other bills are being brought up for hearings and votes, the decision to attend or not at this point is more complex and nuanced than it was before. Please take that into consideration when other members of the Democratic caucus do or do not announce their return.

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2 Responses to The bail bill and the quorum

  1. policywonqueria says:


    Re: “What difference does it make where the money comes from?” said state Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth. “If this is a way just to pay the bail bondsmen, let’s just say it.”

    COMMENT: Isn’t it obvious?

    If bail money is put up by charitable orgs, how does that not cut into the business of for-profit bail bonders? If charitable orgs aren’t available as a legal source to post cash bail, on the other hand, pretrial detainees will stay in jail, but not all. Some will raise money for a bond from family members or friend(s) who may be asked to put up granny’s home as security. See fact recitation in Schmidt d/b/a ABC Bonding Company and Greenbrier Equities, LLC v. Crawford, NO. 01-18-00846-CV, 584 S.W.3d 640 (2019).

    So, the bottom line here is not any grand principle or the fairness to the affected arrestees or the safety of the community, but the dollar flow to the relevant industry: Charity outfits are a threat to the bail bond industry and the size of their captive market.
    Mr. Kubosh, an occasional commenter here, can no doubt elaborate.

    Re: “some pointing to a Houston Chronicle analysis that found most people accused of murder while out on bond in Harris County had secured their release by paying bail.”

    This argument is somewhat disingenous, though it may hold intuitive political appeal and is probably useful in effots to shape public opinion, or at least reinforce support for the resistance to what Republicans are pushing for.

    If we had an honest debate, we would have to acknowledge that this is not a matter of statistics (specifically, the ratio between the two groups in any particular locale at a particular time), but a question of values: where do we draw the line between personal freedom and the presumption of innocence on the one hand and the comforts promised by a police state that prophylactically locks up anyone and everyone who has been accused of a crime, but has not been convicted?

    Regardless of whether accused persons are released on personal recognizance or out on a bond purchased from a bail-bonding company, or on cash deposit for the full amount (from whatever source), they are all in a position to commit a crime (or more crimes, in the case of those who dunnit before).


    There can be no assurance of total safety or protection from wrongdoers, including violence. If there were no societal tolerance for the possibility of more crime being committed by the arrestee population, bail would have to be denied to all, and jail capacity significantly expanded.

    And the constitution would have to be amended too. Or thrown out.

    Suffice it to point out that this would be worse for the bail bonding industry than having churches and nonprofits post bail for people that are not able to raise funds in a manner like – say – a Shelley Luther.

    The issue of charitable organizations being allowed to step in will only have a marginal adverse impact on the bail-bond industry if the majority of those whom they help are truly poor and couldn’t afford to pay for a bond otherwise. Those folks don’t represent lost business. And if the charitable orgs were okay’d to pay for bonds made by bail bondsmen (as distinguished from putting up their own cash for the full amount), it would actually be good for the latter by increasing the size of the pie, i.e. the aggreate volume of business.    

    Also, to the extent the current bail legislation is incompatible with the bail provisions of  the Texas constitution, a 2/3 majority would be required to propose a constitutional modification to make the change pass muster, followed by popular ratification via the ballot. 

    That’s where the Democrats might make a difference other than through their warm-body presence for quorum purposes. 2/3 would actually have to vote in favor and the Republican majority doesn’t have that margin at full attendance level.

  2. Kibitzer says:

    Re: 2/3 for quorum purposes vs. 2/3 vote on the merits

    Let me point out what appears to be a fatal flaw in the policywonk reasoning:

    A constitutional amendment requires a 2/3 vote in both chambers, so Dems would be able the block it in the Senate by voting against it. Regardless of what happens in the House!

    Therefore, the Dems in the House have no additional leverage. In other words, it makes no difference whether they are present or absent because a successful 2/3 vote in both House and Senate is a necessary condition for passage of the joint resolution.

    Bottom line: If the bail reform bill contains components that require a state constitutional amendment, and thus a 2/3 vote rather than a simple majority, it does not give the House Dems a good reason to be present (not break quorum) because they can defeat the constitutional amendment in the Senate (assuming they are unified and assuming they are against the bill).

    The Republicans in the Lege would either have to pass a more modest bill (that doesn’t require a constitutional amendment), or negotiate with the Dems and reach agreement on a version of bail reform that enough Dems will vote in favor of to bring the margin to the required 2/3 (or more) in both chambers.

    That said, at least one of the proposed constitutional changes (Senate Joint Resolution 3, sponsored by Huffman) has already been passed by the Senate with Dem support: 27 Yeas, 2 Nays, and 2 absent/excused.

    So, what’s up with this?

    So, is there really a partisan disagreement on anything of substance?

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