A bill to reform the bail industry in California by annually revising statewide bail schedule and set the bail amount closer to the charged person’s ability to pay was withdrawn on Thursday following several high-profile crimes by criminals released with no bail occurring in recent weeks.
Senate Bill 262, authored by Senator Bob Hertzberg (D-Los Angeles, had originally directly countered the defeat of Proposition 25 in November 2020, which, if it had passed, would have eliminated cash bail in California. Despite the vast majority of Californians wishing to keep cash bail, the original SB 262 tried to go around that and set bail to $0 for most misdemeanor and felony offenses. However, strong opposition to it, as well as the California Supreme Court limiting cash bail based on affordability to those charged, led to several rounds of amendments since the beginning of the year.
The final version of SB 262 stated that, by 2023, the Judicial Council would annually revise a statewide bail schedule. The Judicial Council would also have to consider the seriousness of the offense charged and input from stakeholders, experts, and other interested parties when coming up with the schedule each year.
Under the bill, the court itself would need to consider if non-financial conditions were enough to protect the public and victim, as well as assure that the charged person would make their court date. If bail is given, bail bondsmen could charge no more than a 5% surcharge fee.
Senator Hertzberg originally wrote the bill earlier this year to reform the bail industry and to keep those who pose no threat and have committed no crime from staying in jail, potentially losing their jobs or having them lose needed funds in the process.
“Justice is tenacious,” said the Senator earlier this year. “Anyone who thought last year’s deceptive campaign by the money bail industry would stop California’s march toward a safer, more just system was gravely mistaken. Even the bail industry knows that cash bail is profoundly unconscionable. Fundamental fairness and basic human decency demands we make decisions about who stays in jail on the facts of the case and the risk to the public, not the balance of someone’s bank account. This fight is only beginning, and we’re in it for the long haul.”
A bill stopped by high crime rates, prolific murders
SB 262 faced a rocky legislative history, opposed by Republicans and some Democrats. While it did pass the Senate 30-9 in May, subsequent narrow Assembly Committee votes led many to question if the bill could be passed this session if major changes weren’t added.
While there was still hope for at least a narrow passage in the Assembly this week, recent events ultimately doomed the bill.
Earlier this week, a Sacramento woman was murdered by a transient parolee who also killed her dogs and tried to burn down her house. The transient, Troy Davis, was recently released from prison early, and also was let out in a zero bail release after getting caught stealing a car. The incident, as well as a few other recent cases across the state involving people let out on no bail, quickly turned the tide against the bill. While Hertzberg was adamant that his bill would have kept people like Davis in jail, the concern over having more not receiving bail was too much, resulting in Hertzberg pulling his bill.
“A lot of lawmakers don’t want to listen to the people of California, who overwhelmingly want to keep cash bail,” explained Chuck Grassi, a Los Angeles area paralegal who has assisted on several cases involving bail, to the Globe on Friday. “And crimes like the Sacramento one happen as a result of these lessening laws. Crime is up all over California, and right now, people do not want to see anything that gives any leeway. But they keep trying. They put the criminal over the victim, and this is what happens. But, with these hard lessons, lawmakers are finally beginning to to pull the other way finally.”
Senator Hertzberg, however, has said that he plans to bring the bill back in an updated form next session.
“We made a lot of progress this year and we’ll be back next year in stronger shape,” added the Senator. “I’ll keep working for a fair, safe and equitable bail system, free of industry greed.”
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