Bail Reform: Back On The Front Burner?

With only three weeks left in the general assembly session and three months until the Maryland Court of Appeals will require implementation of the DeWolf v. Richmond decision,  State legislators are beginning to feel the heat to pass bail reform legislation.

While Senate President Thomas Mike V. Miller Jr. would like for the issue to be relegated to Baltimore City, a bi-chamber work group has been convened to find a workable solution. As reported in The Washington Post:

A joint workgroup of senators and delegates is trying to compromise between the plans favored by their respective chambers. Amid these negotiations, Senate President Thomas Mike V. Miller Jr. told reporters Tuesday that Baltimore should handle the problem alone. He said a proposed solution from Sen. Brian Frosh would waste millions of dollars.

“There’s 10 different bills and 10 different solutions in search of a problem,” Miller told reporters after the Senate adjourned. “They need to address the problem in Baltimore city. They’ve got the power to do that in Baltimore city.”

However, lawyers involved in the case that sparked the debate say the entire state — not just Baltimore — has a legal obligation to change its practices. As for Frosh’s bill, the Department of Legislative Services estimates it would cost $7.6 million less than the cost of hiring extra attorneys for bail hearings in the first year.

Meanwhile, the Chair of the House Judiciary Committee Joseph F. Vallario Jr. would like for the issue to go away entirely but will not stand in the way of the joint work group.  As reported in The Daily Record:

Vallario, whom critics accuse of tabling bills he does not like, said he would not be obstructionist in the committee’s consideration of Richmond-related proposals.

“They’ve got their own votes and their own opinions of what should happen,” Vallario said of the committee’s other 21 members.

Vallario said Tuesday that he has considered introducing a constitutional amendment to undo the right to counsel at initial bail hearings. But he added the likelihood of the amendment’s passage would be slim.

So, Vallario said he accepts that the court’s decision has essentially forced the General Assembly to weigh legislative options that would end initial appearances before commissioners.

MACo and the Maryland Correctional Administrators Association (MCAA) both testified in support of Senator Frosh and Delegate Dumais’ bills (cross-files SB 973/HB 1232), but expressed concerns as to local jail issues. Tenets from the testimony provided are applicable to whatever bill and procedures are generated from the joint work group. From MCAA’s testimony:

MCAA cannot express its concerns more seriously as to the impact of this legislation, which should not increase the size of our jail populations in Maryland nor create any exemptions that have been in place under the current District Court Commissioner. Consideration must be given to the safeguarding of our institutions as to not overload our infrastructures or collapse existing best correctional practices of pretrial and community supervision within our respective counties.

MACo and MCAA will continue to advocate on behalf of our concerns and hope that the joint work group keeps the costs and impacts of bail reform on local corrections and government in mind while working toward a solution.

For more information, read previous coverage in Conduit Street and the full articles in The Washington Post or in The Daily Record.