By Bethany Blankley | The central square
TThe Texas House and Senate have passed Gov. Greg Abbott’s second priority piece of legislation – bail reform, which the governor says he will sign into law.
Both chambers passed SB6 last week.
Filed by Senator Joan Huffman, R-Houston, bail reform was proposed in response to a wave of crime sweeping through Texas, resulting in part, she says, as several judges continue to release repeat offenders in the community who commit more crimes.
“As a former prosecutor and judge of a district criminal court, it is absolutely appalling to see the release of habitual and violent offenders against small and sometimes multiple bonds,” Huffman said when she announced proposals for bail reform earlier this year.
After the bill was passed, she said the bill was a “game changer”.
“We have all seen the horrific consequences of current bail practices all over Texas,” she said, which she hopes will be alleviated after the law comes into effect. She said she plans to monitor the implementation of the bill “to make sure the process is working as intended and effective for the justice system.”
His hometown of Houston, the state’s largest city, has been hit particularly hard by the increase in crime, with the homicide rate rising 91% since 2019.
Just days before the bill was passed, two men, both on bail, were arrested and charged with the murder of New Orleans Police Detective Everett Briscoe. Briscoe and another customer eating outside The Grotto restaurant in a busy area of downtown Houston have died of gunshot wounds.
“The bail system in Harris County is a disaster and makes our citizens unsafe,” said Doug Griffith, president of the Houston Police Officers Union, in a statement with Hoffman when she announced reform measures.
Houston Crime Stoppers, who helped push through HB6, said more than 5,000 people had signed a petition in support of the bill. The group helped law enforcement locate and arrest 31 suspects and resolve 64 cases this summer, it reports.
The House passed HB6 by an 85-40 vote with 22 absent. The Senate passed the bill earlier this month and approved the House changes on Tuesday with a 26-5 vote.
The key reform measure prevents judges from releasing defendants on personal bail who are accused of committing crimes, including multiple violent crimes. It also creates a new public database that provides details about each accused’s case and bail conditions, as well as the identification of the judge or magistrate who set the bail. The public security reporting system will be developed by the Court Administration Office and will be made available to all counties free of charge.
The aim is to increase the transparency and accountability of judges, Huffman said, allowing the public to access information about who is released from prison and by which judges.
The new law also requires any state official setting a bond to complete a form certifying that all relevant factors have been taken into account when assessing the defendant’s risk to the community. The form must be electronically signed by the surety author and be made public. This is the first statewide data collection for a Texas bail system.
The new law also requires bail charities to report every accused they release from jail, many of whom are not in Texas. Many surety donations to charity “come from individuals outside the state who have no interest in our state or in our communities,” Huffman said.
The bill has garnered bipartisan support, “much to the dismay of a small number of critics who have continually misinterpreted the bill to fit a flawed narrative,” Huffman said, adding that the law , when implemented, “will help Texans of all walks of life be safer in their communities in the future.
Last month, the Texas ACLU sent a letter to 254 Texas counties advising them that following the law “could land them in court.” SB6 “conflict[s] with our constitutional right to freedom from trial and to the presumption of innocence, ”he said in a statement.
Governor Greg Abbott said the legislation “will reform our broken bail system in Texas and keep our communities safe.” Public safety is at risk due to our current bail system which recklessly allows dangerous criminals to return to our streets, which is why I made bail reform an emergency item during this period. of the 87th Legislative Session.
The law is named after State Soldier Damon Allen, who was assassinated in 2017 after a local magistrate freed a violent criminal in the community.
“Allen’s killer was on $ 15,000 bail when he was previously convicted of assaulting an official and arrested for evading arrest and aggravated assaulting an official,” Abbott said .
SB6 “will help prevent senseless murders like this in the future,” Abbott said, adding he “looked forward to signing the Damon Allen Act and ensuring our communities remain safe and secure.”
Once signed, the bill comes into force 90 days after the last day of the extraordinary legislative session, which is September 5.