When it comes to the Texas House and bail reform, it’s deja vu all over again.
For the second time this year, a proposed constitutional amendment aiming to expand circumstances in which bail could be denied by a judge was killed in the Texas House. The legislation was a priority of Gov. Greg Abbott.
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 it 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 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.
Gov. Abbott named bail reform as one of his emergency items for the Legislature in February, putting it on a legislative fast track to passage. Despite the prioritization, however, the bill was killed in the Texas House on the penultimate day of the regular legislation in May when Democrats were enabled by Speaker Dade Phelan to walk out of the chamber and bust quorum, halting consideration of the bill.
Abbott then put the priority on his agenda for each of the three special sessions that have taken place since. But when the proposal was considered in August, the measure failed to receive the two-thirds support necessary to pass.
The issue was then placed on the current special session, and Senate Joint Resolution 1 was filed with the same language that was voted down just months earlier. On Thursday night, the measure once again failed to receive the necessary support and was voted down.
The proposal has passed the Senate multiple times.
With the possibility of a fourth special session, it remains to be seen whether Abbott will once again add his priority issue to the agenda should lawmakers be called back.