Bail reform is a top priority for both the House and Senate as Senate Bill 21 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) and House Bill 20 by Rep. Andrew Murr (R-Junction) have passed their respective chambers.
SB 21 Passes the Senate, Moves to the House
On April 14, the Senate passed SB 21 by a vote of 23-8. The bill on the Senate floor looked very different from the filed version, as the committee substitute made significant changes. One of the changes is a provision providing that if a defendant is charged with committing an offense while released on bail for another offense, only the court before whom the case for the previous offense is pending is authorized to release the defendant on bail. Additionally, the training requirements for magistrates was changed to include all magistrates, instead of only justices of the peace.
Sen. Huffman offered a floor amendment to the bill that directs the Department of Public Safety to develop training courses relating to the use of the department’s statewide telecommunications system. The courses would be directed to the officials required to obtain criminal history record information outlined in the bill. The bill is currently referred to the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee.
HB 20 Passes the House, Progresses to the Senate
On May 3, the House passed HB 20 by a vote of 98-46. Rep. Murr offered several perfecting amendments, including one renaming the “pre-trial risk assessment tool” to the “public safety report system.” Another amendment by Murr also incorporated training for all magistrates and opened up the training courses to include all aspects of magistration.
An amendment by Speaker Pro-Tem Joe Moody (D-El Paso) was adopted to protect personal bond offices. Another adopted amendment, by Rep. Terry Canales (D-Edinburg), would create an additional hearing for the magistrates if a defendant files an affidavit declaring the maximum amount that the defendant would be able to pay if they are unable to pay the amount required by any bail schedule or standing order. The magistrate would then be required to make oral or written findings. This requirement could prove problematic for justice courts, as they are not courts of record.
An amendment by Rep. Gene Wu (R-Houston) would remove the ability for a clerk to charge an administrative fee from the withdrawal of cash bonds or cash bail bonds filed in their office under certain outcomes from the defendant’s case.
The Senate has received HB 20, which is awaiting referral to a committee.
For more information on this article, please contact Kelsey Bernstein or Amy Befeld.