Bail bond industry moves to block sweeping Calif. law

A coalition submitted more than enough signatures for a statewide referendum on the law in 2020

By Jazmine Ulloa
Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — A coalition of bail bond industry groups took a major step Tuesday toward blocking California’s historic overhaul of the bail system, submitting more than enough signatures for a statewide referendum on the law in 2020.

If those signatures are verified by elections officials, the law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in August would be suspended until the state’s voters have their say — a two-year delay in the effort to eliminate cash bail, longer if voters ultimately overturn the law.

The law would eliminate the payment of money as a condition of release from jail and is expected to decimate a state bail bond industry that includes bounty hunters, surety companies and about 3,200 registered bail agents. Senate Bill 10 was slated to go into effect on Oct. 1 of next year.

“This is a reckless attempt to reform the state’s bail system,” Jeff Clayton, a spokesman for the coalition, said in a statement. “SB 10 is the perfect example of last-minute deal-making by the governor, the Legislature and labor unions absent input from all stakeholders.”

Bail companies over the past two years have aggressively lobbied against efforts in Sacramento to overhaul the way judges assign criminal defendants bail while they wait for their cases to be resolved.

Brown’s signature on SB 10 set the stage for abolishing the state’s current money bail system, ushering in one of the most sweeping criminal justice reforms of his administration. Under the new law, counties will have to establish their own pretrial services agencies, which would use “risk-assessment tools,” or analyses, to evaluate people arrested to determine whether, and under what conditions, they should be released.

Only people charged with certain low-level, nonviolent misdemeanors — a list of charges that can be further narrowed by county — would be eligible for automatic release within 12 hours of being booked into jail. Judges would have greater discretion to weigh the release of all other defendants in a practice known as preventive detention.

Top state officials, judges and activists have hailed the new law, which has put California at the forefront of a national push to stop courts from imposing a heavy financial burden on defendants who have not been convicted of a crime. But questions remain about its effect on the criminal justice system, and even some of its most passionate supporters worry it could lead to the incarceration of more people for longer periods.

The coalition to block the law has raised at least $3 million for its referendum efforts.

Unlike a ballot initiative, which gives California voters the chance to write a new law, a referendum asks them whether they want to overturn a statute written by lawmakers. The bail industry would be asking voters to cast a “no” vote on the ultimate ballot measure to ensure the law’s defeat.

The political action committee organized by the bail industry collected 576,745 signatures in a little more than two months — more than enough needed to qualify for the November 2020 ballot. Elections officials must now verify those voter signatures; if enough of them are valid, the referendum could officially qualify for the ballot before the end of December.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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