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What's Happening With Bail Reform At The Texas Legislature's Special Session?

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Republicans and Democrats agree: Texas' bail system is flawed and changes should be made. But they have very different ideas about what kinds of "reforms" are needed. What's the latest on efforts to change Texas bail laws?

Bail reform didn't make it through the regular legislative session, but was revived as one of Gov. Greg Abbott's priority items for the ongoing special session. GOP-backed bail bills were approved by House and Senate committees in early July, but have stalled since a group of House Democrats fled the state to block the passage of voting legislation.

Similar to those that failed in the regular session, special session GOP bail bills would keep more people who have been accused but not convicted of violent or sexual crimes in jail unless they had enough cash to bond out; expand the list of offenses for which defendants may not be released on cashless personal bonds; and restrict charitable groups’ ability to pay to get criminal defendants out of jail.

While some elements of these bills are widely supported — like more communication in the courts — others have been condemned by Democrats and civil rights groups who say increasing reliance on money bail would lead to the mass detention of poor criminal defendants while those who are wealthy could still walk free, and that a proposed statewide risk assessment tool would unfairly punish minority defendants.

Republican Sen. Joan Huffman, author of Senate Bill 6, said her legislation is "a direct response to an increase in violent crime." Does evidence support claims that the existing bail rules are contributing to a public safety crisis in Texas? How would changes in this bill keep Texans safer?

GOP bail bills aim to keep more criminal defendants deemed dangerous behind bars. What impact would they have on people charged with non-violent crimes? Are there other points of contention between Republicans and Democrats when it comes to bail reform?

Will the lack of quorum due to Democrats' absence effectively kill conservative priorities including bail reform in this special session? If so, will Gov. Abbott bring it back to life again in another special legislative session later this year?

Guests:

  • Ben Yisrael, policy fellow at the Center for Justice Research at Texas Southern University
  • Derek Cohen, vice president of policy for the Texas Public Policy Foundation
  • Twyla Carter, national policy director at The Bail Project

"The Source" is a live call-in program airing Mondays through Thursdays from 12-1 p.m. Leave a message before the program at (210) 615-8982. During the live show, call 833-877-8255, email thesource@tpr.org or tweet @TPRSource.

*This interview was recorded on Thursday, July 22.