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Bill to abolish money bail in California reaches governor’s desk

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California Gov. Jerry Brown, center, along with other officials, attends a news conference in Redding, Calif., on August 4, 2018. Brown, who last year pledged to work with lawmakers and the state’s top Supreme Court justice to overhaul the state’s money bail system, will soon have a bill on his desk. (Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Gov. Jerry Brown will decide whether to abolish money bail in California after the state Senate on Tuesday sent him a sweeping overhaul of California’s pretrial detention system.

Senate Bill 10 would eliminate bail, replacing it with “risk assessments” of individuals and nonmonetary conditions of release. Advocates contend that too many Californians remain stuck in custody because they cannot afford to bail out, effectively creating unequal justice based on wealth.

Brown expressed his support for the effort last year when the authors pulled an earlier version of the measure, which fell short in the Legislature, to negotiate with the governor and Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye. He would not commit to signing SB 10 last week as they unveiled the revised proposal that emerged from those discussions.

The Senate passed the measure largely along party lines, 26-12, with nearly all Democrats and one Republican in support. Several called the current criminal justice system unconstitutional, biased and a failure.

“We start off our session every day pledging allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic, for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all,” Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, said. “Not for the rich. Not for those who can’t afford bail. But for all.”

Republicans warned the measure would endanger public safety and that lawmakers rushed the final language through the legislative process without public hearings.

“This is not a get out of jail free card. This is a stay out of jail card,” Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, said. “There is no doubt that many of these tens of thousands of individuals have indeed committed a crime, victimized the constituents we represent. Think about them.”

The Senate vote followed just five days after backers of SB 10 released the compromise legislation. Proponents moved quickly to pass the measure as former allies announced their objections to the new plan and urged lawmakers to defeat it. Despite complaints about the rushed timeline, the Assembly narrowly passed the bill on Monday.

Several organizations that sponsored the original version of the measure, including the American Civil Liberties Union of California, raised concerns that SB 10 would unjustly expand the number of suspects jailed while awaiting trial. They pointed to a provision in the bill expanding the process for “preventive detention,” giving judges more discretion to block a defendant’s release if they believe there are no conditions that would ensure public safety or their return to court.

-By Alexei Koseff and Taryn Luna, The Sacramento Bee

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