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Texas Gov. Abbott Says Bail Reform Is A Legislative Priority, But How To 'Fix' The System Is Still In Dispute

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Gov. Greg Abbott and other Texas GOP leaders continue to resist a push by Democrats to expand mail-in voting.
Ricardo B. Brazziell | Pool via Austin American-Statesman
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Gov. Greg Abbott designated five emergency items for the Texas Legislature to tackle within the first two months of the session, which began in mid-January. One of those priorities is reforming local bail practices.

Popular Republican-backed bills like Senate Bill 21 would make it harder for individuals accused of a crime to bond out again if arrested for another offense while out on bail. Would these changes reform the system?

Last session, Abbott unsuccessfully pushed lawmakers to pass The Damon Allen Act, named for state trooper who was killed by a suspect while out on bond. Abbott said the goal of this kind of legislation is to keep "dangerous criminals off the streets."

Criminal justice advocates agree that reforms are necessary, but disagree with the GOP's tough-on-crime approach. They say reforms should instead aim to make the bail system more equitable and to ease the burden for arrested individuals who can't afford bail.

The Texas Supreme Court's top justice, a Republican and long-time bail reform advocate, says Texas must amend its constitution to allow a bail system that is fair and safe.

What are the details of various bail-related proposals this session? What do experts say about their potential implications?

How likely is the passage of some version of reform? Can lawmakers come to a consensus on the best approach?

Guests:

  • Andrew Schneider, Houston Public Media politics and government reporter
  • Sandra Guerra Thompson, Newell H. Blakely Professor in Law and director of the Criminal Justice Institute at the University of Houston Law Center
  • Derek Cohen, director of Right on Crime and the Center for Effective Justice at the Texas Public Policy Foundation
  • Nathan Hecht, Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice

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*This interview was recorded on Tuesday, March 30.