Texas Lawmakers Unveil Bail Reform Package

State lawmakers unveil legislation to overhaul bail systems across Texas.

State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, says if the Damon Allen Act had passed last session, Harris County could have avoided lawsuits that forced recent changes to its bail system.

“If we do not fix it, the federal courts will,” Whitmire told reporters Monday in Austin. “It keeps low-risk, non-violent, broke essentially, people locked up and it releases violent offenders who can come up with large sums of money to post a large bond.”

About 75 percent of the 45,000 people in pretrial detention in Texas have not been convicted of a crime.

“They're sitting in county jails across the state, many with emotional issues because they can't come up with the resources to bond out,” said Whitmire, referring to Sandra Bland's jailhouse suicide in Waller County.

Proposed legislation would require a pretrial detention to determine bail on a defendant's flight risk, and allow magistrates to deny bail to anyone considered a public threat.

“If you have a low-level risk, you get to go back to be with your employer, your family, you don't lose your house. The other component is a constitutional amendment. If you have been determined to be a safety risk by a judge, that judge can deny you bond.”

SB 628, along with HB 1323, are named in honor of DPS Trooper Damon Allen, who was gunned down during a traffic stop on Thanksgiving 2017.

“That trooper was shot and killed by a defendant who had been charged and he was out on a $15,000 cash bond after he had previously been convicted of assaulting a peace officer,” said Whitmire.

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