AUSTIN, Texas — Matching bills were filed in the Texas House of Representatives and Senate Monday aiming to reform the bail bond system.
Damon Allen was a Texas State Trooper who was shot and killed during a traffic stop on Thanksgiving Day in 2017 just south of Fairfield. The man accused of killing him was out on bond for assault of a public servant.
Whitmire, a former attorney, and Murr, a former judge, say the Damon Allen Act is common sense, bi-partisan legislation. The bill would:
- Require counties to adopt a validated risk assessment method to use when setting bail.
- Require magistrates to look at a number of factors when setting bail, including the nature of the offense, a person's ability to pay bail and if they have a prior history of violence against law enforcement.
- Require magistrates to impose the least restrictive conditions and minimum amount of bail when making a bail decision.
- Establish a constitutional amendment that, if passed, would allow a magistrate to deny bail upon a showing of clear and convicting evidence that bail and conditions of release would be insufficient to ensure a defendant's appearance in court or safety of community.
Lawmakers said the current system punishes people who can't afford bail while allowing dangerous offenders with easy access to cash a way out.
"There's about 41,000 people locked up in our jails today," said Whitmire. "Approximately 75 percent of them have not been convicted of a crime. Many of that 41,000 have not even been to court."
Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court Judge Nathan Hecht also supports the bills.
Similar bills were filed last session but died in the House. Lawmakers say that's because people in the bail bond industry make a lot of money on the current system and they don't want to see this passed.
As lawmakers mull the bills over, there is a federal lawsuit against the state's bail bond system. Whitmire said it's best if Texas can solve the issue before the federal government gets involved.