Are you familiar with the two new legislative bills that were introduced on Wednesday, January 27, 2021? Below, we’ve put together details to help catch you up to speed and summarize the latest developments.
Specifically, Senate Majority Leader Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys), Assembly Member Rob Bonta (D-Oakland), and Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) recently introduced joint legislation with two agendas in mind: reform the State of California's money bail system and address the disproportionate impacts on low-income and low-wealth residents. Further, the new legislation, SB 262 in the Senate and AB 329 in the Assembly would result in setting bail at $0 (zero dollars) for misdemeanors and low-level felonies in the state. These measures would in practice make it impossible for bail bond companies to survive.
In addition, these two bills would seek to do the following:
- Money being paid for bail or bond to be refunded when—or if—the charges are dropped.
- The case has been officially dismissed.
- The arrestee has not missed any required court appearances.
This would mean there would be no incentive for bail bond companies to stay in business. As if their bail clients go to court or the charges are dropped, they would have to refund the bail money. And if the defendant skips town they would have to pay the court 100% of the bail amount or pay to find and return the defendant to court. Either way bail bond companies would loose money. The legislation claims that it is the Legislature's intent to ensure that a person is not kept behind bars while awaiting trial for the sole purpose of an inability to afford the set amount of bail. However, bail bond companies offer easy payment plans that virtually anyone with a job can afford.
To give you some statistics, according to the Public Policy Institute of California, every single day, about 63 percent of people in jail in the State of California (approximately 46,000) are either waiting to be sentenced or waiting for their trial date. And, while a specific number was not provided, it is clear that a vast percentage of these individuals are simply in jail because they are unable to afford the bail or bond amount that has been set for them.
Making the matter worse, even, is that the over-policing of communities of color and structural and historical barriers to wealth building means that a disproportionate number of Californians in these predicaments are actually people of color.
Unfortunately, if a person is not wealthy, then paying bail comes at an exorbitant price, oftentimes resulting in the arrestee's family suffering, as it is the family that takes on long-term debt in order to secure a bail bond. Interestingly enough, 83 percent of family members who do take it upon themselves to secure bail for a family member are women (an Ella Baker Center survey).
It’s clear that the introduction of SB 262 and AB 329 is a retaliatory response to Proposition 25—which successfully repealed SB 10, a law co-authored by Senator Hertzberg and Senator Skinner. SB10 would have eliminated money bail for all criminal charges, ultimately requiring courts to use only a risk assessment process . . . a process that most California courts already have in place in addition to bail.
Proposition 25 was put on the ballot in last November's election, and the bail industry was successful in overturning SB 10. SB 262 and AB 329 take a vastly different approach than SB 10, as these new bills do not eliminate bail but, again, set it at $0 (zero dollars) for all misdemeanor and nonviolent felony charges. For all other crimes not falling into these categories, the new legislation would require the California Judicial Council to create a uniform bail schedule with standard bail amounts statewide.