© Getty Images
Just hours after California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed legislation eliminating cash bail, the bail bond industry filed a referendum that will ask voters whether to overturn the law.
The measure Brown signed on Tuesday would make California the first state to eliminate cash bail in favor of a series of assessments that judge the likelihood that someone who has been arrested will return to court.
It had been hailed by advocates of criminal justice reform, who say the bail system as it currently exists keeps too many lower income people in custody if they cannot afford to make bail.
But the measure generated a swift response from the bail bond industry. On Wednesday, a group calling itself Californians Against the Reckless Bail Scheme said it would file a referendum seeking to challenge the measure, known as Senate Bill 10.
“Senate Bill 10 has brought together scores of individuals and groups from across the political spectrum — conservative to progressive — to agree on one thing: they all hate it and think it’s a terrible law,” said Jeff Clayton, a spokesman for the coalition.
The referendum was filed with the California Attorney General’s Office, which must first review it before clearing it for circulation, and by Sacramento attorney Thomas Hiltachk, who served as lead counsel to former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R).
Supporters of the referendum to repeal the law now have 90 days to collect just over 366,000 valid signatures. If they do so, Senate Bill 10 will be put up for a vote on the November 2020 ballot.
Until then, the law — scheduled to go into effect in October 2019 — would be put on hold.
Beth Chapman, the head of the Professional Bail Agents of the United States and a co-star of the reality show "Dog the Bounty Hunter," said the new law would put bail bondsmen in California out of business.
“This is a mom and pop industry that’s been going on for over 200 years in this country,” Chapman said in an interview Thursday. “What Senate Bill 10 is going to do is basically put a nail in their coffin.”
Chapman said an end to cash bonds would mean law enforcement would be forced to release those arrested for drug crimes, petty crimes or even more serious violations in a matter of hours.
“The victims will still be in the hospital when these guys are released from jail,” she said.
The new law is the latest in a series of measures California has adopted to reform its criminal justice system. The first of those steps came as the fiscally crunched state tried to save money by cutting its prison population, in part by reducing sentences and reclassifying some crimes from felonies to misdemeanors.
Later, criminal justice reform advocates seized on cash bonds as an unjust policy that keeps low-income people incarcerated longer than those who have means to pay.
“Our path to a more just criminal justice system is not complete, but today it made a transformational shift away from valuing private wealth and toward protecting public safety,” state Sen. Bob Hertzberg (D), the bill’s lead author, said when Brown signed the measure. “We are creating a system that is fairer for all Californians.”
Hertzberg’s office declined to comment on the referendum.
California voters have been asked to overturn acts of the legislature just 28 times since the state gave citizens the right to challenge laws.
This year, voters will decide whether to overturn a gas tax increase passed by the Democratic-led legislature in Sacramento, a referendum placed on the ballot by Republicans including U.S. Rep. Mimi Walters (R) and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin McCarthyAnti-Trump Republicans target McCarthy, Scalise, other high-profile conservatives Congress may be right to cite Bannon for contempt — but Justice would be wrong to prosecute Juan Williams: Trump is killing American democracy MORE (R).
“Now we want the citizens to get a chance to say no, no, no, we’ve gone too far,” Chapman said. “I just can’t imagine that the citizens of California are going to want this much crime.”
Updated at 1:30 p.m.
Tags Kevin McCarthy