California voters could decide the fate of bail bond law

Ballotpedia


In August 2018, California became the first state to pass a law ending cash bail. With signatures filed to overturn the law, voters could have the final say in 2020.

On November 20, 2018, signatures were filed for a veto referendum to overturn California Senate Bill 10 (SB 10), a bill that was designed to make California the first state to end the use of cash bail for detained suspects awaiting trials. Proponents of the veto referendum filed 576,745 signatures with election officials. At least 365,880 (63.4 percent) need to be valid for the referendum to appear on the ballot. Should enough valid signatures be certified, SB 10 would be put on hold until voters decide the bill’s fate in 2020.

Compared to the eight initiatives on the ballot in 2018, a 63.4 percent signature validation requirement was below the average signature validation outcome of 76.4 percent. The lower the required validation rate, the better the odds are that the measure will make the ballot.

The eight initiatives on the ballot in 2018 had an average validation requirement of 75.4 percent, with a range between 58.1 and 78.4 percent. The 15 ballot initiatives on the ballot in 2016 had an average validation requirement of 61.9 percent, with a range between 58.1 and 67.4 percent.

Background about SB 10

California Gov. Brown (D) signed SB 10 on August 28, 2018, and the veto referendum to overturn the bill was filed on August 29. The American Bail Coalition, a nonprofit trade association, organized the political action committee (PAC) Californians Against the Reckless Bail Scheme to advocate for the veto referendum. The PAC had raised $3.01 million. The largest donor was Triton Management Services, a bail bond business, which donated $794,331. David Quintana, a lobbyist for the California Bail Agents Association, which opposes SB 10, said, “You don’t eliminate an industry and expect those people to go down quietly. Every single weapon in our arsenal will be fired.”

SB 10 would institute a system of risk assessments to determine whether a detained suspect should be granted pretrial release and under what conditions. The risk assessments would categorize suspects as low risk, medium risk, or high risk. Suspects deemed as having a low risk of failure to appear in court or risk to public safety would be released from jail, while those deemed a high risk would remain in jail, with a chance to argue for their release before a judge. Those deemed a medium risk could be released or detained, depending on local criminal justice policies. Upon SB 10 being signed into law, Sen. Robert Hertzberg (D-18), the bill’s lead sponsor, said, “Our path to a more just criminal justice system is not complete, but today it made a transformational shift away from valuing private wealth and toward protecting public safety.”

While entities involved in selling or managing bail bonds are behind the campaign to overturn SB 10, the bill had broader opposition while in the state legislature. The ACLU of California opposed SB 10, saying, “We oppose the bill because it seeks to replace the current deeply-flawed system with an overly broad presumption of preventative detention.” The ACLU, along with other groups that support ending cash bail but oppose SB 10, had not signed on to the campaign to overturn the bill through a veto referendum as of November 2018.

Counties will perform a random check of the submitted signatures. If the random sample estimates that more than 110 percent of the required number of signatures are valid, the referendum is eligible for the ballot. If the random sample estimates that between 95 and 110 percent of the required number of signatures are valid, a full check of signatures is done to determine the total number of valid signatures. If less than 95 percent are estimated to be valid, the referendum does not make the ballot.

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