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Bail reform bill passes in state legislature

Published: Sep. 2, 2021 at 11:11 PM CDT
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WICHITA FALLS, Texas (KAUZ) - One of Governor Greg Abbott’s top priorities for the legislative special session will soon be on his desk ready to be signed into law.

Senate Bill 6 has been passed by both the Texas House and Senate, the bill aimed at reforming the bail bond system in the State.

“Really what the bill is intended to do is make sure violent criminals aren’t allowed out on basically personal bonds or really low-cost bonds,” Texas Senator for District 30 Drew Springer said about the bill.

If signed, violent offenders will no longer have the ability to be released on a Personal Recognizance Bond. PR bonds allow an individual to be released from jail without paying bail on the promise that they will return to court on a scheduled date.

Part of SB 6 ensures judges and magistrates have a complete background of an offender so that if they have a violent background, they are given a higher bond.

“This central clearing house would have all of that information there which can give magistrates and judges more information, then they can make decisions that really keep us safe,” John Gillespie, the Wichita County District Attorney, said.

Gillespie calls the passing of the bill a victory for the state.

“If the more dangerous offenders are tagged as more dangerous, and a bond is set that is appropriate for that protects the community, that’s far better than a low bond that should not of ever been set,” Gillespie said.

The district attorney has advocated for changes to the Wichita County bond schedule for over a year, saying community risk factors are not taken into account when setting someone’s bond.

This bill ushers in changes to that system as every local bond schedule would be reviewed to ensure it complies with SB 6.

Gillespie says with SB 6, it aims to prevent another situation like the Joshua Christopher Ray Cook murder case. Cook was granted a bail reduction in 2020 after being jailed for the murder of high school senior Yahaira Garcia in 2018.

“The court of appeals used the bail schedule which didn’t identify any of these community safety risk factors in assessing these bond amounts and they said the bond was excessively high,” Gillespie said.

Cook posted that lower bond than cut his ankle monitor and escaped house arrest. This triggered a manhunt, with law enforcement eventually catching Cook in Wichita Falls. Once back in custody, Cook signed a plea deal for 50 years in prison.

Senate Bill 6 looks to prevent this from ever happening again.

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