SALT LAKE CITY (KUTV) — A bill to repeal Utah's bail reform has passed the House of Representatives and is on its way to the Senate.
House Bill 220 passed the House after lengthy debate Friday by a vote of 51 to 21. The controversial bill would roll back changes made last year to how people are jailed in the state. These changes have only been in effect four months.
“There are some good things that we need to keep, that we can build upon — and we can and we will — but there's a lot of things that need to be fixed,” said Rep. Mike Schultz (R-Hooper), the bill sponsor.
Schultz and others who are pushing a repeal say they have anecdotal evidence that changes to the bail system have failed to work. Those changes were designed to keep people from staying in jail on lower-level offenses just because they couldn't pay. But proponents of repeal argue it’s led to some accused criminals walking out of jail when they shouldn’t.
But Rep. Stephanie Pitcher (D-Salt Lake City) — the original sponsor of last year’s bail reform — said the evidence isn’t there to support a repeal.
“It’s certainly disappointing,” said Pitcher following the House vote Friday. “The data doesn't back up some of the assertions that are being made.”
Those assertions have, at times, been questionable. Last week in a House committee hearing on House Bill 220, Cache County Sheriff Chad Jensen said people were getting out of jail on so-called penny warrants. But Michael Drechsel, assistant state court administrator, said that isn't because of bail reform.
“Penny warrants are 100 percent COVID-related and not at all anything to do with House Bill 206,” Drechsel told the committee. He later told 2News those warrants — wherein defendants pay as little as a penny — are issued in order to notify them of the need to appear in court and not because of a desire to hold them in jail.
At the same hearing, James Swink, the Cache County attorney, cited a case where a teenager was paralyzed in a crash. However, it turned out, that case happened before bail reform took effect. Rep. Andrew Stoddard (D-Midvale) asked him about that.
“So, it was just prior to it going into effect?” Stoddard asked.
“Yes, yes. There are other cases, and I misspoke there,” said Swink. “That is true.”
There is some data on bail reform from the Salt Lake County Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice Initiatives. According to that office, the number of people who got out of jail on felony domestic violence cases has dropped 38 percent since bail reform took effect October 1. The number booked on first-degree felonies who were released within seven days has dropped from 33% to 16%, according to the data.
As this bill shifts to the Senate, Schultz tells 2News it's not just about repeal, but about making the system better. He said he commits to doing something on bail reform if the repeal is passed and signed by Gov. Spencer Cox.
“I am committed on bail reform,” Schultz said. “This is just one step in an important process.”
A spokeswoman for Cox declined to comment Friday on whether the governor would support a repeal of bail reform.
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