Texas’ systems for deciding who should remain behind bars while awaiting trial have long been criticized for unfairly keeping poor people locked up simply because they don’t have the cash to post bail. But it is the death of a police officer and rising homicide rates that have prompted the Texas Legislature to prioritize rewriting the rules for pretrial release this session.
Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick have each put their weight behind efforts to change the state’s bail practices, when courts decide the terms for releasing people legally presumed innocent as their criminal cases are pending.
Their priorities, aimed primarily at keeping dangerous defendants behind bars, are largely detached from what many bail reform advocates seek — keeping fewer people in jail simply because they’re poor.
In the House, the governor is reupping a push from 2019 to keep more defendants deemed dangerous in jail before trial in the name of a slain state trooper, Damon Allen, who was shot during a traffic stop in 2017 while the suspect was out on bond.
In the Senate, Patrick has boosted legislation largely reacting to a shifting bail system in his hometown of Houston after federal courts found the county’s cash bail practices unconstitutional.
The two measures are starkly different, though both authors think the two chambers will be able to find common ground by the time lawmakers go home in May.
Houston Republican state Sen. Joan Huffman said her bill, Senate Bill 21, is meant to “address the appalling uptick in violent crimes by defendants out on multiple personal bonds,” which don’t require cash up front. State Rep. Andrew Murr, a Junction Republican who has worked for several years on bail legislation, called his House Bill 20 “a honest and sincere attempt to provide for bail reform in the state of Texas.”