Bail reform listed as special legislative session priority by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott

Charly Edsitty Image
Thursday, July 8, 2021
Bail reform top priority in Texas special legislative session
People with criminal histories who are accused of new crimes are getting out of jail too easily, critics argue. Gov. Abbott wants lawmakers to change that.

As Texas lawmakers convene for a special legislative session beginning Thursday, one of the priority items set to be considered is an overhaul of the state's bail system.

It's the first of 11 issues Gov. Greg Abbott listed Wednesday in a proclamation outlining the special session's agenda.

"Public safety is at risk because of our broken bail system that recklessly allows dangerous criminals back onto our streets," Abbott said this week.

Bail system critics say it's too easy for violent offenders to be released from custody, pointing to low bonds issued by judges or the use of personal recognizance bonds where a defendant isn't required to post bond.

As for Texas' largest city, Houston's crime rate has been on the rise over the past few years.

13Investigates found that reported crime in 2020 was up 17% compared to the previous year. Reported crime in 2021 was up 14% compared to 2019 figures, according to records obtained.

SEE MORE: Violent crime rates continue to spike across Houston, while number of officers on patrol shrinks

"We all care about this issue," said Rania Mankarious with Crime Stoppers. "But it does us no good when we are concerned and we are angry, and we start criticizing local elected officials that have nothing to do with this issue."

Representatives with Crime Stoppers of Houston have been vocal advocates of bail reform and have circulated a petition asking for changes. They expect to deliver that petition to law makers during the special legislative session.

RELATED: Harris County's bail reforms let more people out of jail before trial without raising risk of reoffending

In addition to bail reform, Abbott's agenda also includes bills related to overhauling Texas elections, as well as pushing back against social media "censorship" of Texans and the teaching of critical race theory in schools. Most of those issues were anticipated after they did not pass during the regular session and Abbott faced pressure to revive them or had already committed to bringing them back.

In a less expected move, Abbott is also asking lawmakers to take on legislation that prohibits transgender Texans from competing on school sports teams that correspond with their gender identity. Abbott had voiced support for that during the regular session but had not given any indication he would add it to a special session despite a campaign by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick to do so.

The special session agenda also includes funding for the legislative branch, which Abbott vetoed last month. He did so after House Democrats staged a walkout in the final hours of the regular session that killed the priority elections bill. The inclusion of the legislative funding raises the possibility that lawmakers could restore paychecks for their staff - and other staff at the Capitol - before the next fiscal year begins on Sept. 1. More than 2,000 staffers are affected by the veto of the Legislative funding, which Democrats have called an executive overreach of power.

This story includes additional reporting fom our ABC13 partners at The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans - and engages with them - about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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