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
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
(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
(H) [(I)] Section 21.02 (Continuous Sexual Abuse
of Young Child or Children); or
(I) [(J)] Section 20A.03 (Continuous Trafficking
(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
(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
(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
(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
(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
(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
(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
(B) with respect to setting bail in criminal
(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
(i) under Article 15.17, Code of Criminal
(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
(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
(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
(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;
(4) any dates on which the defendant has failed to
appear in court as required for the charge for which the bond was
(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
(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
(k) Chapter 22 applies to a bail bond paid by a charitable
(l) A charitable bail organization shall maintain an office
in each county in which the organization files an affidavit under
(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.