On Monday, the Texas House of Representatives gave final consideration to legislation relating to bail reform, an issue that Gov. Greg Abbott named as an emergency legislative item back in February, during the 87th regular legislative session.
The issue then fell victim to the original quorum break that occurred on the penultimate day of the session, after being set for consideration following the omnibus election integrity bill.
Ongoing Special Session
As a proposed constitutional amendment, it required two-thirds of the House membership to support the measure. It garnered only 87 votes in favor, and as such, it failed to pass.
When the proposed constitutional amendment passed the Texas Senate on August 9, it did so with the support of almost all of the senators.
The bill sought to amend the Texas Constitution to expand the conditions under which judges and magistrates are authorized to deny bail and also would have established procedures for when bail was denied in these cases.
Currently, bail may be denied and defendants can be detained during the pre-trial period only in very limited circumstances. Supporters of the bail reform efforts believe it would make Texas safer as it takes a holistic approach to setting bail by considering whether or not the accused appears in court as well as the safety of the community, law enforcement, and the victims of the alleged offense. Supporters cite the 2017 killing of Texas Department of Safety trooper Damon Allen as an example, as he was shot during a traffic stop by an individual who had previously been released on bail despite having been a repeat offender with a violent past.
Critics of the legislation believe that the legislation would have been too broad of an expansion of the circumstances by which bail could be denied. They indicate that defendants are presumed innocent, and detaining them pre-trial inverts that presumption. They believe that judges and magistrates currently have tools they are allowed to use under current law to monitor defendants accused of serious crimes. These tools include electronic monitoring, house arrest, curfews, and drug and alcohol testing.
Notably, one Republican, State Rep. Matt Schaefer (Tyler), voted against the proposed constitutional amendment even though he had previously voted in favor of the enabling legislation, Senate Bill 6 which did pass the House on Monday.
What Does it All Mean?
With less than one week left in the ongoing second called special legislative session, the prospects for the bill’s passage look bleak.
Assuming the House version does not make it through the legislative process in time, it remains unclear whether Abbott will add the issue to a potential future special session agenda or whether he will wait until the next regular legislative session.