Maryland Black Caucus Opposes Bail Bill

Maryland’s Legislative Black Caucus voted this week to oppose a bill (SB 983) that would make changes to the state’s bail system and supersede a recent Court of Appeals rule change governing the use of bail.

SB 983 passed the Senate 29-18. The House has not taken action on the bill’s crossfile HB 1215.  Advocates who previously supported a bill (HB 1390/SB 880) introduced to codify the court rule change, have switched gears to opposing SB 983 and advocating that no bills be passed. SB 983 now sits in the House Rule Committee and faces daunting odds of being passed given the Caucus’ vote and less enthusiasm from House leadership to push the issue.

The Baltimore Sun reports:

The caucus voted, 31-5, to oppose a bill favored by the bail bond industry — and approved by the state Senate — that would overrule the Court of Appeals’ instruction in February that court commissioners and judges consider other forms of pretrial release before resorting to cash bail.

The industry objected to a provision of the Court of Appeals rule that diminished the role of cash bail in pretrial release. “Preference should be given to additional conditions without financial terms,” the rule reads.

The Senate bill would supersede that provision and put cash bail on a par with other conditions, which include steps such as drug treatment, monitoring and home detention.

The bill is now bottled up in the House Rules & Executive Nominations Committee because the Senate passed it after a legislative deadline. Opponents want the speaker to keep it there, and the caucus action bolsters their case. Members of black caucus make up about 40 percent of Democrats in the House.

The Senate bill prevailed in that chamber, 29-18, with solid support from Republicans. A majority of Democrats opposed it. If Busch were to let the bill come to the floor, he would face the likelihood of a similar split. While Busch has not taken a public position on the bill, he has shown no enthusiasm for taking on the issue.

As previously reported on Conduit Street, the court rule change was made to provide clearer guidance for taking a defendants financial circumstances into consideration for setting of bond when the defendant is considered a flight risk or a danger to society. The changes stemmed from a letter of advice issued by the Attorney General stating that the current system could be found to be unconstitutional and in violation of due process. Should no action be taken by the General Assembly, the change will go into effect on July 1.

For more information:

Maryland Black Caucus Votes to Oppose Bill That Would Dilute Court’s Bail Rule (The Baltimore Sun)

Senate Debates Bail Bill, House Wait-And-See (Conduit Street)

Sun Weighs In, Cautions Against Pro-Bail Legislation (Conduit Street)

Court of Appeals Unanimously Approves Changes to Bail Rules (Conduit Street)