January 25, 2016

House bill to deny bail advances

A bill that would allow judges to deny bail on certain offenders has passed its first House committee on party lines.

Jail CellSponsored by state Rep. David Adkins, R-Albuquerque, the measure would allow voters to approve or reject a proposed constitutional amendment that would let judges deny bail to offenders to “protect the safety of any other person or the community.”

The House Regulatory and Public Affairs Committee passed the bill on a 4-3 vote.

Jeff Clayton, a policy director for the American Bail Coalition, said the bill would only affect the “worst of the worst.”

“We’re talking about somebody who is dangerous who is going to flee and be dangerous,” Clayton said.

Among supporters of the bill were members of the bail bond industry, the state Department of Public Safety and Julie Benner, widow of Rio Rancho officer Gregg “Nigel” Benner.

Most who opposed the bill mentioned their support of a similar measure by state Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe. Wirth’s bill proposes a constitutional amendment that allows judges to deny bail to offenders who present a danger to the community in addition not allowing judges to put people in jail who are eligible for pretrial and can’t afford bail.

Lobbyists for the bail bond industry, along with Adkins, argued that the second provision in Wirth’s would drive their businesses under. Adkins argued that city and county governments would then have to replace them.

“The fear is the city and county would have to hire people to go do what the private industry is already doing for us,”  Adkins said.

State Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero, D-Albuquerque, cautioned Adkins to be careful with his words.

“I don’t want the public perception to be that we’re actually eliminating a particular sector of the industry itself,” she said. “We’re talking about words as a language that creates that environment. However, there’s still going to be room for bail bonds.”

The bill passed on party lines, with Republicans Bob Wooley, Yvette Herrell, James Smith and Nora Espinoza voting yes and Democrats Roybal Caballero, D. Wonda Johnson and Deborah Armstrong voting no. The bill next heads to the House Judiciary Committee.