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Texas SB 1338 – Making a Manageable Issue a Huge Problem

 

Austin, TX – The Committee on Criminal Justice held a hearing at the Texas State Capitol, on Tuesday, April 4.  The hearing room was packed with bondsmen from around the state.  They traveled to Austin to register their opposition to Senate Bill 1338.  The measures underlying purpose is to put Texas bondsmen out of business.  The tension in the room was palpable.

On behalf of ABC, I was among several representatives of the bail bond industry who registered to testify in opposition to SB 1338.  Also providing testimony were expert bail attorneys Ken Good and Randy Adler and Houston based bondsmen, John Burns and Rodney Vannerson.
 
Sen. John Whitmire (D-15) is the Chair of the Criminal Justice Committee and the author of SB 1338. In his introduction of SB 1338, Sen. Whitmire pointed out the significant cost of holding in jail those defendants too poor to post bail. After hearing testimony about the exorbitant cost of holding every arrestee in custody until a risk assessment interview could be conducted, Sen. Whitmire quickly pivoted away from costs to public safety, ‘We shouldn’t be worried about costs when public safety is at issue!’.
 
SB 1338 calls for a risk assessment to be conducted on each defendant within 48 hours of arrest.  48 hours does not seem like a long wait until you factor in most people post bail within 24 hours of being arrested.  Dallas County bonding companies post as many as 800 bonds a day.  Factor in the high number of defendants who are released OR each day and that is a huge number of defendants requiring a risk assessments each and every day. Imagine the staff needed to process that many people on a daily basis, seven days a week.  The impact on jail crowding would be immediate, long lasting and terribly expensive.
 
During the hearing Senator Whitmire made it very clear he was not at all concerned that his bill, if implemented, would put Texas bondsmen out of business or whether or not the cost of his proposed program would be a burden to taxpayers.  Texas bondsmen post more than 400,000 bonds a year. Establishing a risk assessment based pre-trial agency system in 254 counties would costs Texas taxpayers as much as 2 billion dollars annually.
 
This hearing was very unusual in that standard decorum and protocol gave way to direct debate between Senator Whitmire and whoever was provide opposition testimony.  It was was remarkable to watch.  It was clear to me, Senator Whitmire believes the end will justify the means and he doesn’t care how he gets there.  He’s been selected to waive the flag of criminal welfare in Texas and he is determined to succeed.
 
Every state in the country has a few first-time offenders in jail who cannot afford bail.  And every state grants a judge the authority to release those individuals on their own recognizance should they so chose.  We have state supreme court justices, state representatives, senators and governors who want to make this relatively minor issue into a a cause celebre.  In doing so, these criminal welfare advocates are trying to convince law-abiding, tax-paying citizens they should fund the pre-trial supervision of those very people committing crimes against them.
 
Sen. Whitmire is the Chair of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee and it is a safe bet SB 1338 will be voted out of that committee.  The Texas bondsmen community was well represented at this hearing but there needs to be five times as many at the next hearing of SB 1338.  Stay tuned for more information about upcoming hearings and your opportunity to show support for your profession.
 
Updated: 4/7/17