Capitol Alert

Is money bail here to stay in California?

Inmates David Karapetyan, 24, and Tobias Gutierrez, 25, listen to music at the Sacramento Jail on Jan. 14, 2016.
Inmates David Karapetyan, 24, and Tobias Gutierrez, 25, listen to music at the Sacramento Jail on Jan. 14, 2016. pkitagaki@sacbee.com

A major push to overhaul California’s bail system faces an unclear future after a significant political victory and defeat in quick succession last week.

The Senate last Wednesday passed a bill that would largely eliminate the use of money bail in California by instead releasing someone after arrest if it is determined they do not pose a flight risk or threat to the public. A day later, however, an identical measure fell short in the Assembly, where the Senate proposal heads next for consideration.

Supporters of the bills argue that the current system discriminates against the poor, with repercussions for those stuck in jail because they cannot afford steep bail rates, while the wealthy are able to buy their way out for more serious crimes. Assemblyman Rob Bonta, the Alameda Democrat leading the Assembly push, said he heard almost uniformly from colleagues “that reform is needed.”

But many were concerned that the change would increase demand for pretrial services, such as risk assessments and supervision of released defendants, that are estimated to cost counties hundreds of million of dollars or more per year. A massive lobbying push by the bail industry and law enforcement raising doubts about the safety of the proposal, which Bonta called “fear-mongering,” also proved effective for some.

“Change is difficult and people need to be persuaded,” Bonta said. “With transformative policy like this, the instinct is to slow down.”

That may be the case for the bail overhaul, which could be held until next year while Bonta and Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Los Angeles, seek a compromise with opponents.

They are more likely to push ahead with Hertzberg’s Senate Bill 10 in the Assembly, where they will need to find six more votes than they did last week. Bonta’s measure failed 35-37, with eight members abstaining or absent.

Several of those who held off said they are willing to consider the proposal but are waiting for more details. Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi, D-Torrance, a former prosecutor, wanted an okay from judges. Assemblyman Brian Maienschein of San Diego, the sole Republican present last Thursday who did not vote against Bonta’s bill, said it was simply not yet far enough along.

“It’s a very broad-brush approach,” he said.

Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff

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