HOUSTON — Appearing at the Safer Houston Summit Monday morning along with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and others, Gov. Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill 6, the so-called bail reform bill, into law.
While not as publicized as the abortion or election bills, there is some controversy surrounding SB6, which will require people accused of violent crime to put up cash in order to obtain bail.
Proponents say the law will help to keep violent offenders off the streets. Opponents say it will create additional hardships for some offenders, particularly those of limited financial means.
The bill passed during special session in August.
“There really are people that should not be in the community. They should not be given a personal recognizance bond," said state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Texas Senate District 7.
“People were being released like popcorn on PR bonds, and they ended up killing somebody," said Bettencourt. "We've got to realign the scales of justice to where we're not releasing the same, you know, violent criminal element back on the streets.”
But those people could still be released if they have the money to pay bail.
“Cash bail has nothing to do with public safety. All it means is that if you have resources, you have money, you can pay your way out of custody, and if you're poor, you sit in jail," said Carson White, staff attorney with Texas Appleseed.
Critics of the bill say it will disproportionately impact people from low-income and marginalized backgrounds.
“This matters for people who are what I call the poorest of the poor, who simply don't [have] access [to] the financial resources to pay cash bail or to pay a bondsman," said Amanda Woog, executive director of the Texas Fair Defense Project.
In the guidelines set in the bill, before setting bail, judges would have to go through training and consider a defendant’s criminal history.
“If they've taken into consideration all the factors, including their ability to pay, and they set a bond that they cannot afford, then the constitutional requirements have been met, and then it's just, that's what the impact of their risk to public safety is," said Ken W. Good, attorney and board member of the Professional Bondsmen of Texas.
The bill’s opponents say that banning personal bond release for certain criminal defendants awaiting trial is troubling.
“Everyone should be concerned about how this bill, in some ways, shifts this idea that people should be presumed innocent, to a presumption of guilt, and that people should be held in jail pretrial. That is not what the norm is supposed to be under our Constitution," said Woog.
Civil rights organizations say that they plan to issue legal challenges to the law.