Senate Passes Bail Reform – House Action Still Pending

After several days of intense floor deliberations, the Maryland Senate voted late Monday night to approve a bill (SB 973) that would revamp the bail reform system through a new pretrial service division and statistical analysis tool. As reported in The Washington Post:

 The vote capped several days of vigorous debate on an issue that was forced on the legislature after its highest court found that too many people were unnecessarily incarcerated pending trial, perhaps because they lacked adequate legal representation when they went before District Court commissioners.

Backers said the decision was a necessary step to address the court’s concerns, especially with time running out in the legislative session and the court’s decision to stay implementation of its rulings until this June. But critics said the legislature was making a bad decision worse.

“This is one of the most dangerous bills I’ve seen down here,” said Sen. Robert A. Zirkin (D-Baltimore County), who has instead urged lawmakers to overturn the court’s decision.

Sen. Christopher B. Shank (R-Washington) called the bill “the best solution forward” and argued the current system isn’t working all that well. He said the legislature can’t do nothing at this point.

“We’re playing chicken with the court,” Shank said. “Doing nothing at this stage is a recipe for disaster.”

The bill will now go to the House, which as noted by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, Jr. in The Washington Post, is headed in a different direction than the Senate necessitating a long road to compromise.

The Senate Committee is also scheduled to hear SB 1114 today – a constitutional amendment seeking to overturn the Richmond decision by changing the facets of the Maryland Declaration of Rights interpreted to offer the broad right to counsel.

For more information read the bill, visit the bill’s page, or read previous coverage on Conduit Street.