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Texas Senate considers criminal justice overhaul, denies bail to some offenders

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — The Texas Senate on Monday passed a 30-1 constitutional amendment that would deny bail to those accused of violence or sexual assault, part of greater Republican pressure around law enforcement reform. bail after campaigning on promises of “tough on crime” strategies.

If ultimately approved by voters, SJR 44 would authorize judges to deny bail “in certain circumstances” to a person charged with a “violent or sexual offense or ongoing human trafficking.” The author of the resolution, Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, said during a March 7 committee hearing on her legislation that she would give local officials the tools to make bail decisions.

“Texas does not have viable options to hold our most habitual violent criminals without bail,” she said. “This bill has now been delayed for a few years. And I think it cost lives to be honest.

Currently, the Texas Constitution has few exceptions for cases in which judges can outright deny bail.

The legislation garnered bipartisan support, with additional sponsorship from Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen. A similar proposal passed the Senate in the 2021 legislative session, but House members failed to garner the two-thirds majority support needed to pass it.

Opponents have expressed concern that it could violate Texans’ due process rights or lead to higher incarceration rates. Lauren Rosales of the Bail Project testified against the bill at an earlier hearing in March before the Senate Criminal Justice Committee.

“This amendment would mean that more Texans would be locked up in jail for weeks, months, or years without being convicted of a crime,” she said. “More Texans will plead guilty…which will lead to more unnecessary incarcerations.”

Other state leaders like Governor Greg Abbott pointed to the growing number of defendants charged with additional crimes while on bail, particularly in Harris County, as reasons to prioritize bail reform. bail and other measures that Republicans say will increase public safety.

“I signed bail reform legislation last session to try to strengthen bail policies, but to make sure we achieved what we needed to achieve, we also had to change the Constitution. of Texas,” Abbott said. said last september.

The resolution will now make its way to the House, where it died last session. Rep. Reggie Smith, R-Sherman, wears a companion version of the SJR 44 in the House.

This is a developing story, check back for updates. Capitol correspondent Monica Madden will have a full report on KXAN at 6 p.m.


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