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Combat the High Crime Rate - Democrats Should Mobilize to Modify, Not Oppose, Senate Bill 21.

On 3/30/21, Harris County Commissioners Court voted 3-2, along party lines, to condemn Senate Bill 21 authored by State Senator Joan Huffman (R-Houston). In summary, S.B. 21 is designed to enhance public safety by making it more difficult for the most troublesome of criminal defendants to be released from jail on personal (free) bond. While Commissioners Court members made some valid points, I strongly believe a state law similar to S.B. 21 is desperately needed to help combat the skyrocketing crime rate in Houston/Harris County. Hardcore criminal defendants should not be arrested and then promptly released from jail on personal or low bond (just go through the turnstile). Rather than outright oppose S.B. 21, Democrats should work with Republicans to modify the proposed language to exclusively target serious felony defendants (thus avoiding any potential conflicts with the federal court settlement in the O’Donnell lawsuit). As Democrats, we must be proactive in protecting the public, especially those living in lower-income neighborhoods who seem to be under siege, constantly being victimized by gangs and career criminals (recidivists with extensive criminal records). Frankly, public safety should be a bipartisan issue. During the next election cycle, do Democrats really want to be known as the Party "weak" on crime? I urge the Democrats on Commissioners Court to reconsider and modify their position on S.B. 21.


For more information, the proposed text of S.B. 21 is shown below:



A BILL TO BE ENTITLED

AN ACT

relating to rules for fixing the amount of bail, to the release of

certain defendants on a bail bond or personal bond, to related

duties of a magistrate in a criminal case, to the reporting of

information pertaining to bail bonds, and to the regulation of

charitable bail organizations.

BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF TEXAS:

SECTION 1. Articles 17.03(b) and (b-1), Code of Criminal

Procedure, are amended to read as follows:

(b) Only the trial court with jurisdiction over [before

whom] the case [is pending] may release on personal bond a defendant

who:

(1) is charged with an offense under the following

sections of the Penal Code:

(A) Section 19.03 (Capital Murder);

(B) Section 20.04 (Aggravated Kidnapping);

(C) Section 22.021 (Aggravated Sexual Assault);

(D) [Section 22.03 (Deadly Assault on Law

Enforcement or Corrections Officer, Member or Employee of Board of

Pardons and Paroles, or Court Participant);

[(E)] Section 22.04 (Injury to a Child, Elderly

Individual, or Disabled Individual);

(E) [(F)] Section 29.03 (Aggravated Robbery);

(F) [(G)] Section 30.02 (Burglary);

(G) [(H)] Section 71.02 (Engaging in Organized

Criminal Activity);

(H) [(I)] Section 21.02 (Continuous Sexual Abuse

of Young Child or Children); or

(I) [(J)] Section 20A.03 (Continuous Trafficking

of Persons);

(2) is charged with a felony under Chapter 481, Health

and Safety Code, or Section 485.033, Health and Safety Code,

punishable by imprisonment for a minimum term or by a maximum fine

that is more than a minimum term or maximum fine for a first degree

felony; or

(3) does not submit to testing for the presence of a

controlled substance in the defendant's body as requested by the

court or magistrate under Subsection (c) of this article or submits

to testing and the test shows evidence of the presence of a

controlled substance in the defendant's body.

(b-1) A defendant is not eligible to be released [magistrate

may not release] on personal bond if the [a] defendant:

(1) [who,] at the time of the commission of the charged

offense, is civilly committed as a sexually violent predator under

Chapter 841, Health and Safety Code;

(2) has, in the preceding two years, failed to appear

after being released on personal bond or has had a bond found to be

insufficient;

(3) is charged with committing any offense while

released on bail for another offense;

(4) was convicted of any felony offense in the

preceding three years or any Class A or Class B misdemeanor offense

in the preceding year;

(5) is currently charged with multiple offenses,

regardless of whether the offenses are pending before the same

court;

(6) is charged with any offense under Title 5, Penal

Code, in which there is an identifiable victim;

(7) is charged with an offense that involves

possession of four or more grams of a controlled substance;

(8) is charged with, or in the preceding five years was

charged with, an offense under Section 38.06, Penal Code;

(9) has been convicted of an offense under Section

22.011 or 22.021, Penal Code; or

(10) is charged with any offense involving the use of a

deadly weapon as defined by Section 1.07, Penal Code.

SECTION 2. Article 17.15, Code of Criminal Procedure, is

amended to read as follows:

Art. 17.15. RULES FOR FIXING AMOUNT OF BAIL. (a) The

amount of bail to be required in any case is to be regulated by the

court, judge, magistrate or officer taking the bail; they are to be

governed in the exercise of this discretion by the Constitution and

by the following rules:

1. The bail shall be sufficiently high to give reasonable

assurance that the undertaking will be complied with.

2. The power to require bail is not to be so used as to make

it an instrument of oppression.

3. The nature of the offense and the circumstances under

which it was committed are to be considered.

4. The ability to make bail is to be regarded, and proof may

be taken upon this point.

5. The future safety of a victim of the alleged offense and

the community shall be considered.

6. The criminal history and immigration status of the

defendant, including any prior offenses committed against a public

servant or involving family violence, shall be considered.

(b) In this article, "family violence" has the meaning

assigned by Section 71.004, Family Code.

SECTION 3. Chapter 17, Code of Criminal Procedure, is

amended by adding Article 17.1501 to read as follows:

Art. 17.1501. BAIL SCHEDULE; HEARING. (a) The judges of

the courts trying criminal cases in a county may promulgate a

standing order setting out a schedule of suggested bail amounts for

any offense over which the courts have jurisdiction under Chapter

4.

(b) A defendant who is unable to give bail in the amount

required by the schedule may file with the applicable magistrate a

sworn affidavit declaring the maximum amount that the defendant

would be able to pay or provide as security within 48 hours of

arrest for purposes of obtaining a bail bond. The affidavit must

set out sufficient facts to clearly establish that amount, given

the totality of the defendant's circumstances.

(c) A defendant who files an affidavit under Subsection (b)

is entitled to a hearing before the magistrate on the bail amount.

The hearing must be held not later than 48 hours after the charges

were filed against the defendant or 48 hours after the defendant was

arrested, whichever is later. At the hearing, the magistrate shall

consider the facts stated in the affidavit and the rules

established by Article 17.15 and set the defendant's bail. The

magistrate shall issue oral or written findings of fact supporting

the decision.

(d) A defendant who has not given bail before the fourth

business day after the date bail is set under this article shall be

taken before the court before whom the case is pending for a hearing

to reconsider the bail amount. At a hearing under this subsection,

the court may adjust the bail, keep the bail as previously set, or

impose any additional conditions of release on bond the court

considers necessary.

(e) This article may not be interpreted as creating a right

to release on bail in this state that does not exist under the

constitution of this state.

SECTION 4. Section 27.005, Government Code, is amended to

read as follows:

Sec. 27.005. EDUCATIONAL REQUIREMENTS. (a) For purposes

of removal under Chapter 87, Local Government Code, "incompetency"

in the case of a justice of the peace includes the failure of the

justice to successfully complete:

(1) within one year after the date the justice is first

elected, an 80-hour course in the performance of the justice's

duties, including not less than four hours of instruction regarding

the justice's duties:

(A) under Article 15.17, Code of Criminal

Procedure; and

(B) with respect to setting bail in criminal

cases; and

(2) each following year, a 20-hour course in the

performance of the justice's duties, including not less than:

(A) two hours of instruction regarding the

justice's duties:

(i) under Article 15.17, Code of Criminal

Procedure; and

(ii) with respect to setting bail in

criminal cases; and

(B) 10 hours of instruction regarding

substantive, procedural, and evidentiary law in civil matters.

(b) The courses must [may] be completed:

(1) in an accredited state-supported school of higher

education; or

(2) through a course in bail bond law that is:

(A) approved by the State Bar of Texas; and

(B) offered by a public or accredited private

institution of higher education in this state.

SECTION 5. Subchapter C, Chapter 71, Government Code, is

amended by adding Section 71.0354 to read as follows:

Sec. 71.0354. BAIL & PRETRIAL RELEASE INFORMATION. (a) As a

component of the official monthly report submitted to the Office of

Court Administration of the Texas Judicial System, the clerk of

each court at law shall report:

(1) the number of bail bonds given for each level of

offense;

(2) the number and type of bail bonds given;

(3) the number of defendants that posted bail;

(4) the number of defendants released on bail who

failed to reappear; and

(5) the number of defendants released on bail who

committed new offenses.

(b) The Office of Court Administration of the Texas Judicial

System shall post the information in a publicly accessible place on

the agency's website without disclosing any personal information of

any defendants, judges, or magistrates.

SECTION 6. Chapter 17, Code of Criminal Procedure, is

amended by adding Article 17.071 to read as follows:

Art. 17.071. CHARITABLE BAIL ORGANIZATIONS. (a) In this

article, "charitable bail organization" means a person who solicits

donations from the public for the purpose of depositing money with a

court in the amount of a defendant's bail bond.

(b) This article does not apply to a charitable bail

organization that pays a bail bond for not more than one defendant

in any 180-day period.

(c) A charitable bail organization shall file in the office

of the county clerk of each county where the organization intends to

pay bail bonds an affidavit designating the individuals authorized

to pay bonds on behalf of the organization.

(d) A charitable bail organization may only pay bail bonds

for indigent defendants charged with misdemeanors. The

organization may not pay more than a total amount of $2,000 for each

defendant, regardless of the number of misdemeanor charges pending

against the defendant.

(e) Not later than the 10th day of each month, a charitable

bail organization shall submit, to the sheriff of each county in

which the organization files an affidavit under Subsection (c), a

report that includes the following information for each defendant

for whom the organization paid a bail bond in the preceding calendar

month:

(1) the name of the defendant;

(2) the cause number of the case;

(3) the county in which the applicable charge is

pending, if different from the county in which the bond was paid;

and

(4) any dates on which the defendant has failed to

appear in court as required for the charge for which the bond was

paid.

(f) Not later than January 10 and June 10 of each year, a

charitable bail organization shall submit, to the sheriff of each

county in which the organization files an affidavit under

Subsection (c), a report that includes the following information

for each donation of $100 or more received after the organization's

most recent report under this subsection:

(1) the name, address, and telephone number of the

donor; and

(2) the amount donated.

(g) A charitable bail organization's initial report

submitted under Subsection (f) must include the information

required by that subsection for donations received by the

organization in the preceding two years.

(h) A charitable bail organization shall maintain records

of all donations received and bail bonds paid by the organization

until the fifth anniversary of the date the donation was received or

bond was paid. The sheriff or county clerk may audit the records.

(i) A charitable bail organization may not pay a bail bond

for a defendant at any time the organization is considered to be out

of compliance with the reporting requirements of this article.

(j) A sheriff may suspend a charitable bail organization

from paying bail bonds in the sheriff's county for one year if the

sheriff determines the organization has paid bonds in violation of

this article.

(k) Chapter 22 applies to a bail bond paid by a charitable

bail organization.

(l) A charitable bail organization shall maintain an office

in each county in which the organization files an affidavit under

Subsection (c).

(m) A charitable bail organization may not accept a premium

or compensation for paying a bail bond for a defendant.

SECTION 7. (a) Section 27.005(a)(1), Government Code, as

amended by this Act, applies only to a justice of the peace who is

first elected or appointed on or after the effective date of this

Act. A justice of the peace who is first elected or appointed

before the effective date of this Act is governed by the law in

effect on the date the justice was first elected or appointed, and

the former law is continued in effect for that purpose.

(b) A justice of the peace serving on the effective date of

this Act must complete the justice's initial two hours of

instruction required by Section 27.005(a)(2)(A), Government Code,

as added by this Act, not later than September 1, 2022.

(c) The changes in law made by this Act apply only to a

person who is arrested on or after the effective date of this Act. A

person arrested before the effective date of this Act is governed by

the law in effect on the date the person was arrested, and the

former law is continued in effect for that purpose.

SECTION 8. This Act takes effect September 1, 2021.

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