SACRAMENTO — A bill to do away with California’s longstanding “money bail” system — which, reform advocates say, punishes the poor for being poor — cleared its first legislative hurdle on Tuesday.
Over the strong objections of the bail industry, the Senate Public Safety Committee passed the sweeping proposal to replace bail schedules with expanded “pretrial services” procedures to assess whether a defendant’s release would pose a safety threat and to make sure they show up for their court dates. Washington, D.C., and New Jersey have made similar changes, and California is one of eight states considering reforms.
Proponents, including the ACLU and SEIU, say far too many people remain behind bars as they await trial simply because they and their families can’t scrape together bail — or the 10 percent, nonrefundable fee to a bail agent. Others, they say, are quickly released from jail — even though they may pose a danger — simply because they have the money to post bond.
“Somebody is arrested, and because they don’t have a few bucks to get out of jail, they’re sitting in jail,” said Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D- Van Nuys, the lead author of Senate Bill 10. “That is not justice. That is not what this country is about.”
The bill has one Republican on board — Sen. Joel Anderson, of San Diego County, is a co-author — and proponents hope to gain more traction with the GOP. But Anderson was not at Tuesday’s meeting and the lone Republican in attendance, Jeff Stone, of Murrieta, voted against the measure. SB 10 has an identical counterpart in the Assembly, AB 42, by Rob Bonta, D-Oakland, who also appeared before the Senate committee to make his case for the changes.
But some law enforcement groups are trying to pump the brakes, noting that a major report on bail reform from the state’s Supreme Court is not expected until mid-December.
“We just think the bills are premature,” said John Lovell, a lobbyist for groups including the Association for Deputy District Attorneys and the California Narcotic Officers Association, “and a more responsible and prudent legislative approach should be to hold off action until we get the report.”
Developing story — check back for updates.