Republican-led bail reform bill gets new life in Texas special session

Texas Politics

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Reforming our state’s bail system is one of Gov. Greg Abbott’s priorities this special session, and it will be heard in a committee hearing for the first time this weekend.

Houstonian Michael Spates explained his experience with the state’s current bail system.

“Because I couldn’t bond out, I ended up staying in jail for a while,” Spates said, explaining he then spent about 60 days in the Harris County jail.

Connections he made while behind bars led to Spates going in and out of jail for various drug-related charges in the following years.

“Had I been granted bail, maybe I could have gotten back with my community and things like that with my family and church and other people who could have helped me get back on the proper track,” Spates said.

He’s been out since 2007, got his degree as a chemical dependency counselor and now he’s fighting to fix our bail system for other non-violent offenders who can’t pay.

“Texas has a broken bail system that allows dangerous criminals to go free,” Abbott said when he was first explaining his push for the legislation back in January.

His goals for bail reform are much different than Spates’. He’s pushing legislation in honor of a Texas trooper who was killed in the line of duty in 2017.

“Trooper Damon Allen was shot and killed during a traffic stop. His accused killer was out on bail when he should have been behind bars,” Abbott said at his public safety roundtable in January.

The proposed bill would require more communication in the courts, which is one thing Democrats can get behind.

“We need our magistrates who set the bonds in full communication with our judges, as well as with our pretrial and probation services,” State Sen. Sarah Eckhardt (D-Austin) said, but explained she disagreed with the other major portion of the bill.

It also requires a monetary bond to be set, which would mean counties currently using risk-assessment tools would be forced to set bail bonds.

“It doesn’t guarantee the dangerous people aren’t released from jail. But it does guarantee that poor people who are not dangerous are not released from jail,” Eckhardt explained.

Criminal justice reformist Robert Williams agreed and said if it passes, it will keep more people in jail.

“It is a bill that addresses cash bail and specifically felony bail. And to be honest, it will help the problem of repeat violent offenders being let out on bail. But as it does that, it is such a large umbrella that it will scoop up many more and actually add to the problem that we have,” Williams said.

“There has to be a better way,” Spates said. He explained he understood keeping violent offenders locked up but fears for those like him who are charged with non-violent crimes.

The hearings are set for Saturday morning in both the Senate and the House.

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