For those who have been following County Issues, you may be experiencing déjà vu reading this article. After five attempts, the Legislature passed a bill taking aim at addressing problems within the state’s bail system. Senate Bill 6 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) and Senate Joint Resolution 3, also by Huffman, were the vehicles for bail reform.
SB 6 passed on Aug. 30 and aims to address instances in which habitual and violent offenders are released on multiple, consecutive bonds — specifically, personal bonds. SJR 3 would have amended the Texas Constitution to allow for additional circumstances in which bail could be denied; however, the resolution failed to receive the required two-thirds vote in the House, so that effort will need to be taken up anew by a future Legislature to become law.
SB 6 underwent numerous changes since introduction, a number of which were proposed by county officials and their associations. The bill’s main provisions are as follows:
- Introduction of a Public Safety Report System (PSR) to be developed by the Office of Court Administration (OCA) and distributed free to all counties. However, counties will be required to provide equipment or support related to accessing or using the PSR. PSR must be considered by any individual setting bail for all arrestable offenses (Class B misdemeanor and higher).
- Delineation of which magistrates are eligible to set bail for felonies and misdemeanors punishable by confinement. To release such a defendant as described, the magistrate must:
- Be a resident of the state or a visiting justice of the peace.
- Be in compliance with all training requirements.
- Not have been impeached from office.
- Not have resigned from office after receiving notice of potential impeachment.
- Provision of mandatory initial and continuing training requirements on bail procedures, along with additional training on the Department of Public Safety’s statewide telecommunications system.
- Instruction on which court may release a defendant who has been charged with committing a new felony offense while already out on bail for another felony offense.
- Such a defendant may be released only by the original court before whom the case for the previous offense is pending or by another court designated in writing by the original court if that offense occurred in the same county.
- If a defendant is charged with committing an offense punishable as a felony while released on bail for another pending offense punishable as a felony, and the subsequent offense was committed in a different county, electronic notice of the charge must be promptly given to the original court.
- Implementation of an “indigence affidavit” review process for defendants who assert they are unable to give bail as set by a county bail schedule or standing order.
- Prohibition against magistrates releasing defendants on personal bond if the defendant is charged with an offense involving violence or if the defendant, while on bail or community supervision for a violent offense, is charged with committing a felony, assault, deadly conduct, terroristic threat or disorderly conduct involving a firearm.
- Requirement for clerks of each court setting bail to track and report summary information pertaining to bail to the OCA to be released in a monthly report and to the Legislature each year.
Importantly, SB 6 in its final form made clear that certain provisions regarding the PSR do not apply to cite-and-release cases, ensured that if there is a long delay with the PSR system that a magistrate can still magistrate misdemeanants without the PSR and clarified that formal, evidentiary hearings will not be required at magistration or when conducting an indigence affidavit review.
Gov. Greg Abbott signed the bill into law on Sept. 17. The bill’s provisions have varying effective dates but notably, the OCA is not required to develop the PSR System until April 1, 2022. Therefore, all the provisions centering on the PSR will not go into effect until such time.
The provisions listed above is not exhaustive and TAC encourages county officials to read the entirety of the bill and to contact Amy Befeld or Kelsey Bernstein with any questions.