I understand their concerns, but that doesn’t mean I agree with them.
Legislation touted as a fix-all to reform Texas’ controversial jail-release system was blasted Tuesday by bail bondsmen and attorneys who said it would destroy the bail-bond industry and leave taxpayers footing a multimillion-dollar tab.
“The whole industry will be out of business” if the proposed measure passes, warned Harris County bail bondsman Rodney Vannerson, in testimony that echoed the sentiments of others. “The cost of replacing this system will be astronomical.”
During a standing-room-only hearing at the Texas Capitol, Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, sparred with several witnesses over whether his Senate Bill 1338 would improve Texas justice by allowing thousands of poor Texans to get out of jail before trial on minor charges – as the state’s top two jurists testified it will.
Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht and Court of Criminal Appeals Presiding Judge Sharon Keller, in a rare joint appearance, both endorsed the legislation. They said it is a much-needed overhaul of an antiquated system that keeps too many Texans in jail and gives violent offenders who have money the ability to get out of jail when they should not.
Targeted for the most criticism during the hearing was Harris County, which Whitmire and other witnesses said keeps thousands of indigent defendants in a chronically overcrowded jail because they cannot afford to make bail.
“This legislation is a radical sea-change in how bail is handled in Texas,” said Michael Whitlock, with American Surety Co., warning that similar changes in other states have proven controversial and costly.
Jeri Yenne, the criminal district attorney in Brazoria County, complained that the changes would add court time to current bail procedures.
Potter County District Attorney Randall Sims cautioned that justices of the peace who supervise bail hearings in many counties may be legally overwhelmed by the changes as many are not attorneys.
Randy Adler, an attorney who represents bail-bond companies, said $7 million in fees now paid to counties on bonds and millions more in forfeiture fees could no longer be collected.
See here for the background. I am sure that if these bills pass, it will have a negative effect on the business of bail bonding, and I am sure some bail bondsmen will go under as a result. That’s unfortunate for them, but it doesn’t mean that these reforms aren’t right or necessary. The number of people who are held in jail because they can’t afford bond even though they represent little to no risk to anyone and even though their being in jail imposes a significant cost to themselves, their families, and all of us taxpayers, is simply unconscionable. I challenge the assertion that changing how bail is determines will be detrimental to society. And not to put too fine a point on it, even if the opponents of these bills get their way in the Legislature, the federal courts may force the issue anyway. Perhaps the better approach is to figure out how to adjust to a world that’s going to change one way or another, whether bail bondsmen like it or not.