California Bail Reforms on Hold Pending 2020 Vote

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A landmark law to abolish California’s money bail system has been put on hold until voters decide its fate in November 2020, the Los Angeles Times reports. Election officials on Wednesday certified a statewide referendum backed by a coalition of bail industry associations, verifying more than 400,000 signatures to qualify the referendum for the ballot. That sets the stage for a campaign battle between bail companies fighting for their survival and state leaders who have pledged to protect indigent criminal defendants from unjust incarceration and fees.

A bill signed by former Gov. Jerry Brown in August was slated to go into effect this fall. It would give judges greater discretion to decide who should remain in jail ahead of trial and eliminate the payment of money as a condition of release, a practice critics say traps defendants in cycles of debt, even if they have not been convicted. Bail groups fought the legislation since it was first proposed three years ago, saying it would result in the release of violent offenders and decimate a $2-billion national industry, including 3,200 bail agents in California. A day after Brown signed the law, a national coalition of bail agency groups launched its referendum drive, raising about $3 million and collecting more than enough signatures to qualify the measure in just two months. Bail companies will be able to continue doing business as usual until voters weigh whether to overturn the law. Court and government officials have pledged to defend the reforms and say that the bail industry’s efforts will not stop momentum for changes to bail and other pretrial systems taking place across the U.S.

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