Thursday, March 11, 2010

Pretrial Release: Florida House Bill 445 Passes Committee Unanimously

Florida House Bill 445, sponsored by Representative Chris Dorworth, passed the Public Safety & Domestic Security Policy Committee by unanimous vote on Tuesday, March 9, 2010! Chaired by Representative Kevin Ambler, the committee acknowledged the benefits of the bill, which would limit taxpayer-funded pretrial release to the indigent who are not charged with a violent offense. The bill also limits eligibility to anyone who has failed to appear in the past or has been convicted of a violent crime. The bill is a win-win for the taxpayers and the indigent, who often are the ones passed over by pretrial services programs while they release other defendants who are able to post a bond.

A handful of people spoke against the bill claiming the mentally ill or poor people would remain in jail. It is obvious they didn't read the bill as poor people are the ones the bill would help and the judge still has full judicial discretion to release anyone who doesn't qualify for release under the bill to be released on their own recognizance and ordered into mental health treatment, drug treatment or other special programs. GPS monitoring and drug testing can also be ordered and accessed by private providers in the community.

Commissioner Bill Proctor from Leon County, who created the county's pretrial release program, was one of the individuals against the bill. If he had done his homework, he would have realized the benefits of the bill to the indigent as well as the savings taxpayers would enjoy by not having to spend more tax dollars to find people who fail to appear for court when released by pretrial services. He claimed there were no statistics that show any difference in failure to appear rates for release on bond or pretrial services; he must not have read the two dozen national studies that have been conducted that show release on a bail bond has the lowest failure to appear rate than any other form of release!

Even the Tallahassee Democrat saw the light when they reported that Proctor, "protested Tuesday against a plan to forbid release of dangerous suspects and know bail jumpers without posting bail." What is relevant to this whole argument is the fact that public safety will be increased while the burden on taxpayers will be decreased.

The bill next goes before the Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Committee the week of March 22, 2010. If you care about your safety and the wise use of your tax dollars, communicate with your Representatives and Senators and let them know you support this important bill!

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