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California Bail Industry's Latest Effort To Stay In Business

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A street advertisement for a bail bond company in Long Beach, California. The state's bail bond industry is fighing back against a new law that replaces cash bail with a system of pretrial release.

The battle over whether California should eliminate cash bail is moving toward a double-barreled showdown at the ballot box.

The industry is now seeking constitutional protection, on top of its effort to overturn a new state law abolishing the current system.

The law, signed last year by former Gov. Jerry Brown, replaces cash bail with a pretrial release system that requires courts to base detention decisions on inmates’ risks to flight and public safety.

But the industry was able to block the law from taking effect by gathering voter signatures for a referendum on the November 2020 ballot.

Now, it’s going on offense as well as defense: Backers have submitted a constitutional amendment, which would protect bail from new legislation. It could also give the industry new life if the California Supreme Court upholds a lower court ruling that money bail is unconstitutional.

Jessica Bartholow with the Western Center on Law and Poverty, who worked to pass the 2018 law known as SB 10, predicted the industry’s efforts will fail.

“The thought of having to pay for your release from jail when you haven’t been convicted of any crime is so antithetical to California’s view of justice that I can’t imagine a scenario in which they would succeed,” she said.

The constitutional amendment’s proponent, Sacramento-based election lawyer Tom Hiltachk, said his client has not authorized him to discuss the measure. The Sacramento political consultant leading the campaign, Tony Russo, did not respond to requests for comment.

The industry must soon decide whether to spend millions of dollars it will cost to gather the nearly 1 million voter signatures necessary to place their constitutional amendment on the November 2020 ballot.

If so, voters could decide two bail propositions at the same election: the referendum to overturn the state law, and the constitutional amendment to protect money bail from future legal and political threats.

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