Capitol Alert

Bail bondsmen ask voters to kill California law that puts them out of business

Facing a threat to its continued existence, the California bail industry will attempt to block a new law eliminating cash bail by asking voters to overturn the plan.

Bail industry groups on Wednesday launched a referendum drive against Senate Bill 10, a day after Gov. Jerry Brown signed the sweeping legislation that aims to remove money from the state’s criminal justice system.

The law, which takes effect in October 2019, replaces bail with an assessment of an individual’s likelihood of returning for court hearings and their chances of getting arrested again. Those who are deemed “low-risk” would be released with the least restrictive non-monetary conditions possible, while “medium-risk” and “high-risk” defendants could be held awaiting trial.

Though advocates hailed the proposal as a fix for a broken system where wealth determines who remains stuck in custody, bail companies argued that it would actually lead to more people being detained because of the broad discretion it gives to judges. They also raised questions about its legality, pointing to the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which provides that “excessive bail shall not be required.”

But SB 10 ultimately means the end of their business. The bail industry estimates the law would wipe out more than 7,000 jobs in California.

Proponents have 90 days from when Brown signed the bill to qualify their referendum. If they submit about 366,000 valid signatures from California voters, the law will placed on hold and appear on the November 2020 ballot. That would buy the bail industry at least another year beyond the October 2019 effective date, even if voters uphold SB 10.

David Quintana, a lobbyist for the California Bail Agents Association, said he believes the referendum will be “overwhelmingly successful,” because Californians are tired of the stream of recent laws rolling back tough criminal statutes and sentencing laws to reduce the state’s overcrowded prison population.

“The public is going to rise up and support stronger public safety,” he said.

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