Democrats warn of mass detentions as Texas Republicans advance bail bills

Days into a short legislative session, Texas lawmakers are moving quickly to pass a GOP priority bill that would make it harder for some people who have been arrested but not convicted to bond out of jail without putting up cash.

Legislators in the House and Senate filed matching bills to change state bail practices earlier this week, echoing legislation that failed to pass in the regular session. On Saturday, committees in both chambers approved the bills and sent them to the full chambers after nearly three hours of debate in the Senate and nine hours in the House.

The sweeping bail legislation would change how and if people can be released from jail before their criminal cases are resolved, while they are still legally presumed innocent. The bill would ban the release of those accused of violent crimes unless they had enough cash, as well as restrict charitable groups' ability to pay to get people out of jail.

While the two Democrats on the Senate committee supported Senate Bill 6, House Democrats down the hall spoke out strongly against the identical House Bill 2, arguing it would lead to mass detention disproportionately affecting people of color, and it would create an overreliance on money in Texas' pretrial system that is unfair to people who are poor. Both chambers of the Texas Legislature have a Republican majority.

During the hearings, the Republican bill authors, crime victims and their supporters argued new bail laws are needed to keep dangerous people behind bars before their trials, pointing to rising crime rates and numerous examples of defendants accused of violent crimes having been released from jail on bond and then accused of new crimes.

Bill supporters have also fought against the increase in courts releasing defendants on personal bonds, which don't require them to have cash to get out of jail but can include restrictions like GPS ankle monitoring or routine drug testing.

"SB 6 is legislation which is really a direct response to the increase in violent and habitual offenders being released on personal bonds along with low-cash bonds," State Sen. Joan Huffman, a Houston Republican and author of the bill said Saturday. "We have failed our communities, we have failed our citizens, definitely we have failed the victims, and it's time to do something about it."

House Democrats and civil rights advocates opposing the legislation took aim at the bills' continued reliance on cash bail, noting that it primarily penalizes low-income people.

"What does ability to post a cash bond, how does that make a community safe?" questioned state Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, who leads the House Criminal Justice Reform Caucus. "The bill pushes more people into the cash bail system by precluding their ability to have a personal bond in a laundry list of situations."

In Texas, almost everyone who is arrested has a constitutional right to be released on bail. The current exceptions are capital murder defendants or people accused of certain repeat felonies or bail violations.

After someone is accused of a crime and arrested, courts set bail by deciding what restrictions are needed to release the person before their criminal case is resolved. The bail release system has two key goals: protecting public safety and ensuring defendants come back for their court dates.

Often in Texas, like many states, the possibility of being released while awaiting trial comes down to a dollar amount. If the defendant can post an assigned cash bail amount, or pay a nonrefundable percentage to a private bail bonds company, then they can usually walk free.

House Democrats also criticized the provision limiting charitable groups' ability to post bond for criminal defendants. Such organizations became popular after they bailed out protesters arrested during the unrest after a police officer murdered George Floyd. HB 2 and SB 6 would prevent the groups from posting bond for people accused — or ever previously convicted — of a violent crime. Any group could still post bail for up to three people every six months, and religious organizations would be exempt from the restriction.

In the Senate, Huffman dismissed criticism that the measure would lead to mass detention, saying it put in place a process for defendants to say they could not afford their bond and instructed judges to use the least restrictive bail conditions. But Democrats and civil rights advocates said the lengthy form arrestees would need to fill out in jail to declare indigency is overly burdensome, requiring information on tax expenses, noncash assets and debts under penalty of perjury.

"SB 6 is trying very hard to keep the most serious violent offenders away from our communities until they can have their trial," Huffman said at the hearing. "On the other hand, it is very cognizant of low-level, low-risk offenders, that there needs to be the least restrictive means used to ensure their appearance in court."

While portions of the bills have drawn sharp division, others are less controversial. For example, the bills would require more judicial training on bail setting and provide more information to court officers who are setting bail, like a defendant's criminal history.

Still, Democrats and civil rights advocates say that the GOP bail legislation is a move in the wrong direction and would exacerbate systemic racism in the Texas criminal justice system, where Black men are disproportionately arrested and imprisoned.

"We're going to double down on those errors of the past," Moody said. "We have done an immense amount of work in this body to try to turn the corner on those things, to try to promote liberty, to look at restorative justice … This is going to take us backwards."

For years, civil rights groups and federal courts nationwide and in Texas have scrutinized bail systems' reliance on cash. In Harris and Dallas counties, federal courts ordered changes to bail practices ruled unconstitutional because they led to the systematic detention of people who haven't been convicted of a crime simply because they were poor.

In an ongoing federal lawsuit in Houston, civil rights attorneys pointed to the case of Preston Chaney, a 64-year-old man who caught the coronavirus in the Harris County jail and died. He'd been kept in jail for months, accused of stealing lawn equipment and meat from a garage. If he'd been able to pay about $100, he could have walked out of jail shortly after his arrest.

But Gov. Greg Abbott and other Republicans say bail changes are urgently needed instead to keep more defendants behind bars, citing examples of violent crimes committed by those who were out of jail on bond. Abbott began to call for bail changes after Texas state trooper Damon Allen was killed during a 2017 traffic stop. The suspect was out of jail on a $15,000 bond at the time, and the court official who set his bail later said he would have set the dollar amount higher if he had known the man had previously been accused of assaulting a Smith County deputy.

Harris County Republicans have also pointed to violent crimes allegedly committed by those out on bond, with some defendants having posted a high bail amount to be released and others being released on personal bonds. At the Capitol, people whose loved ones were killed questioned how the suspect could have been released on bond.

That included Melanie Infinger, whose 20-year-old pregnant daughter, Caitlynne, was killed in 2019, allegedly by her estranged husband. He had been released on a personal bond after being accused of assaulting Caitlynne, according to court records. He had been out on bond for an intoxicated driving charge when the assault occurred.

"[Caitlynne] reassured me that there was no way that he was going to get out because … he's facing a felony and multiple misdemeanors," Infinger said Saturday before lawmakers.. "Harris County, the very system that promised to protect my daughter, was responsible for her murder."

HB 2 and SB 6 are similar, but not identical, to the final version of the bail bill that failed to pass earlier this year after House Democrats walked out of the chamber to kill a GOP voting measure. After the regular legislative session ended in May, Abbott vowed to bring lawmakers back to the state Capitol for a special session to pass bail and voting legislation.

Along with the priority bail bills, the two committees also approved related resolutions to allow courts to more often deny the release from jail outright in some violent cases. If passed, the resolutions would amend the Texas Constitution if approved by voters in November. But measures to change the Constitution must pass with a two-thirds majority — which requires Democrats to join Republicans on the bill.

Dozens who died in Texas prisons during the pandemic had been granted parole: report

"Dozens who died in Texas prisons during the pandemic had been granted parole, new report shows" was first published by 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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Last year, as the coronavirus killed hundreds inside Texas lockups and sickened tens of thousands more, prisoner rights advocates unsuccessfully pleaded for state officials to more quickly release the thousands of people in prison who had already been approved for parole.

Now, a new report shows delays in release have been deadly.

In the first year of the pandemic, 18 people who had already been granted parole died with COVID-19 before they could walk out of prison, according to a report released Thursday from the University of Texas at Austin's Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs. At least another two dozen parole grantees died in prison from reasons unrelated to the coronavirus in the same period, largely due to chronic health issues.

“While COVID has dramatically exacerbated this problem, the data also tells us that this phenomenon is not unique to the pandemic era," the report stated.

At least 26 people died in prison in 2019 after having been granted parole, according to the report.

In April, about 10,800 people held in Texas prisons had already been approved for parole, according to data from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, accounting for 9% of the state prison population. More than a quarter of them had been granted parole at least six months earlier, and nearly 900 people had been waiting for more than a year.

The large number of parole grantees in prison is not unusual. At any given time, thousands of people are held in Texas prisons despite having a parole approval in their hands. That's in part because the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles requires most prisoners to first undergo additional educational or rehabilitative programming before their parole release, which can last from three to 18 months.

Some of the programs are specific to the person's conviction, like addiction and sex offender treatment programs. But many prisoners are assigned to complete a more generic life-skills program that lasts three months. In 2019, less than a quarter of those granted parole were approved for release without delay.

During the pandemic, those classes — and the parolees' releases — were often pushed back. Before March 2020, a person granted parole remained in prison an average of three to four months before being released, according to the report. That average increased to six months in the pandemic, with a typical delay ranging from five to 11 months. Eleven people who died in prison during the pandemic had been approved for parole more than a year earlier, the report found.

One explanation for the delay is that those who required programming that wasn't available at their prisons had to wait months while transfers among units were stopped to limit the virus' spread. And units confirmed to have active infections were locked down, sometimes for a month or more, restricting activity within and halting movement in and out of them. Rehabilitative programming shifted from in-person interactions in a classroom setting to filling out paper packets in the prisoner's dorm or cell.

The threat of the coronavirus and the limited programming inside prompted family members and prisoner advocates to call for parolees to complete any necessary programming outside of prison walls after release. But the parole board said repeatedly it would not change its parole review process during the pandemic. Gov. Greg Abbott, who oversees the board, has maintained a strong message against increased release from lockups, stating in March 2020 that “releasing dangerous criminals in the streets is not the solution" to the virus' threat inside prisons and jails.

For those who had been approved for release on parole, the UT Austin report suggested free-world programming, noting it is already often available in the community for people sentenced to probation. The report also recommended that TDCJ provide prisoners any necessary rehabilitative programming earlier in their sentences, so as not to postpone release once parole has been granted. Michele Deitch, a senior lecturer at the LBJ School and an author of the report, said such a change would require a significant shift in practices within the parole board and TDCJ.

“There's a concept that every expert will tell you, which is that reentry starts on the day of admission to prison," she said. “To adhere to that concept, it makes sense to offer that programming at the start of someone's time that they're incarcerated."

In the Legislature, the Texas House passed a bill this year to require that any necessary prerelease programs be identified by the parole board and made available to prisoners by TDCJ before they become eligible for parole. The bill died, however, after never moving in the Senate.

A spokesperson for the parole board did not respond to questions Tuesday. TDCJ spokesperson Jeremy Desel said the agency provides programming that is mandated by the parole board, and acknowledged the pandemic “absolutely" presented challenges to parole releases. He added that the state has a low rate of people released from prison being reincarcerated within three years.

“The parole system is built to give inmates the highest possible chance to succeed in their reintegration into society," he said. “And the way our parole system works and has been working in Texas is a success story."

Aside from COVID-19, most deaths of those granted parole were due to chronic health conditions, according to the UT report. It says the state pays an estimated $744,722 each day the nearly 10,800 prisoners who were approved for parole in April stay locked up. And costs are much higher for those with chronic medical conditions, as an aging prison population continues to increase prison health care costs. The report recommends immediately releasing those granted parole who are chronically ill.

“It's a problem that is not only a tremendous human toll, but it's got an enormous cost attached to it," Deitch said.

For Kambri Crews, any of the recommended changes in the report could have let her see her father in person before he died in prison custody in July instead of saying goodbye on a hard-fought FaceTime call. Theodore “Cigo" Crews, 73, died in a prison hospital after a late cancer diagnosis, 30 days after he'd been granted parole. He had served 18 years of a 20-year aggravated assault sentence.

“We went through a whole roller coaster of emotions," Kambri Crews said, between learning he was approved for parole and his death. “From elation and fear because of the COVID concerns, and also this crushing feeling of helplessness in knowing that we were going to be caught in the apathetic bureaucracy."

Her father was first required to take a drug and alcohol program, she said, but she didn't understand why he couldn't have taken classes any other time in his nearly two decades behind bars, or take them outside with her had he been released.

“He's a prime example of someone who needed therapy and [Alcoholics Anonymous] and domestic violence training before he got released," she acknowledged. “But he'd been in prison for 18 years, so what was that time for?"

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2021/06/17/texas-prisons-parole-coronavirus/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

Texas investigating allegations that unaccompanied migrant children are being abused, sexually assaulted in San Antonio

Gov. Greg Abbott on Wednesday called for the federal government to close a San Antonio facility housing unaccompanied migrant children after he became aware of allegations of sexual assault.

"In short, this facility is a health and safety nightmare," Abbott said at a press conference outside the Freeman Coliseum, which is reportedly housing more than 1,300 teens who recently crossed the U.S.-Mexico border without a parent or guardian.

The announcement came as Texas and the federal government are locked in battle over a recent increase in the number of migrants crossing the state's southern border.

Abbott said complaints about sexual assault were reported early Wednesday to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services as well as the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. The governor did not know the identities of those who alleged assault, nor did he provide many details. He said he was concerned more than one child may have been assaulted. He also said that DPS will investigate the allegations.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services did not immediately respond to questions after Abbott's announcement.

The press conference, Abbott said, was to alert President Joe Biden's administration and push them to move the children housed in the coliseum to other federally run facilities with more "space, personnel and resources to ensure safety." He also said the facility was short on staff, some kids were not eating enough food and those infected with the coronavirus were not separated from healthy teens.

A spokesperson for Abbott said the governor told federal officials about the allegations before the press conference.

Rebeca Clay-Flores, a Bexar County commissioner, painted a different picture of the conditions than the governor described, however. She said, having been in the facility many times, she saw children being well cared for. The Freeman Expo Center in San Antonio, which KSAT-TV reported held 1,370 teens on Monday, has the ability to house up to 2,500 children, according to the federal health department.

"What I saw when I went in there on several occasions, it was well-staffed, the children are very happy and very excited to be here," she told reporters after Abbott left. "This is not a political issue. This is about children who deserve protection from adults."

Abbott acknowledged to reporters that he had not been inside the coliseum.

Vulnerable children are often victims of sexual assault. In Texas, children kept in foster care and state-run juvenile lockups often report sexual assault, as well, without the governor's immediate intervention. Last fall, juvenile justice advocates pleaded for the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate sexual abuse in Texas' youth lockups, which have been plagued by scandal for more than a decade.

Abbott and many other Texas Republicans have repeatedly criticized the Biden administration as it struggles to address an increase in migrants being apprehended near the U.S.-Mexico border. Almost all single adults are being immediately expelled under a pandemic health order issued by Trump that Biden has kept in place, although the current administration is allowing in unaccompanied minors and some families to await their immigration court hearings in the U.S. But Democrats are also loudly questioning where the conservative compassion was less than two years ago under President Trump's watch, when apprehensions hit near-record figures despite his crackdown on the border.

The number of people crossing the border illegally increases nearly every spring thanks to the weather getting warmer. The past three presidents have struggled at times during their tenures with surges in border crossings. But the number of children being apprehended has been particularly high in recent months, straining federal facilities.

As of Tuesday, the Biden administration had more than 4,200 unaccompanied migrant children in Border Patrol custody and roughly 16,000 in the care of federal shelters run by the federal Department of Health and Human Services. By law, unaccompanied children are not supposed to be held in Border Patrol custody for more than 72 hours except for in emergencies. Since Feb. 22, the White House has opened at least eight emergency influx sites of unaccompanied migrant children in Texas, including Freeman, with a total capacity of about 14,000 beds.

Lomi Kriel, Shawn Mulcahy and Patrick Svitek contributed to this report.

Gov. Greg Abbott prioritized changing how bail is set. He isn’t addressing people stuck behind bars because they can’t afford to pay.

Preston Chaney was booked into Harris County Jail last April, accused of stealing lawn equipment and meat from someone's garage. If he'd had $100, he could have posted bail and walked free within days.

Instead, the 64-year-old Black man was held for months, caught the coronavirus and died from COVID-19 in August while awaiting trial.

A year earlier, Alex Guajardo didn't have to pay any cash to get out of the same jail after being accused of assaulting his pregnant wife Caitlynne, according to court records. He was out on bond for an intoxicated driving charge when the assault occurred. The court ordered Guajardo to stay away from the family home and released him on a personal, no-cost bond.

Two days later, Guajardo was arrested again, this time for allegedly stabbing and killing his wife.

The deaths of Chaney and Caitlynne Infinger Guajardo have both been blamed on failures in the complex bail system. Courts set bail by deciding what restrictions are needed to release people who are legally presumed innocent before their criminal case is resolved. The bail release system has two key goals: protect public safety and incentivize defendants to come back for their court dates.

Most often, whether someone gets out or not depends on money.

Last week, Gov. Greg Abbott made changing bail practices an emergency item for state lawmakers this legislative session, meaning they can take up the matter earlier than other legislation. But Abbott has made clear his priority is to address practices that let Guajardo out of jail, not the ones that kept Chaney in.

In his State of the State address, Abbott said lawmakers must fix the bail system "that recklessly allows dangerous criminals back out onto our streets." The governor wants more training for judicial officers who largely make cash bail decisions and a tool for assessing a defendant's risks of missing court dates and endangering the community. Those goals are expected to be addressed in the not-yet-filed Damon Allen Act, named after a state trooper killed during a traffic stop while the suspect was out on bond.

Abbott has repeatedly affirmed that the emergency legislation would not specifically address what criminal justice experts call bail reform: halting the discriminatory jailing of poor people that repeatedly has landed Texas counties in federal court. He said he will consider such measures in other bills, but those efforts are not deemed a priority.

"We're going to separate the Damon Allen Act and what I'm expecting from bail reform there," Abbott told The Texas Tribune. "Separate from that, I told [lawmakers] that I am open to considering other bail reform issues so that we don't basically have a prison for the poor who don't have the ability to get bailed out for petty crimes where they pose no danger to our communities."

Bail reform advocates bemoan Abbott's new urgency and revamped proposal as a step away from true reform which focuses on fixing discriminatory money bail practices. They also worry it could enhance racial disparities in the criminal justice system and lead to more poor, presumably innocent people accused of minor crimes lingering in jail.

As is the case nationwide, Black people are more likely to be jailed in Texas than white people. Though the state's population is about 13% Black, 29% of people held in Texas jails in 2015 were Black, according to The Vera Institute. In 2019, about a third of inmates in Texas prisons were Black.

"The way [Abbott] laid it out shows clearly that he's far more interested in maintaining the status quo and fear mongering than really looking at our bail system that keeps Black and brown people locked up," said David Villalobos, a criminal justice reform coordinator with the Texas Organizing Project.

Evolving bail fights

In Texas, almost everyone who is arrested has a constitutional right to be released on bail. The exceptions are capital murder defendants or people accused of certain repeat felonies or bail violations. The U.S. Bill of Rights says bail can't be excessive, as criminal defendants are still legally presumed innocent.

Still, most of the time, bail decisions are based solely on money.

When a court sets cash bail, the full amount can be paid to the court which will refund the money if the defendant follows the conditions of the bail bond. More often, however, the accused opts to pay a nonrefundable percentage, usually 10%, to a private bail bonds company that fronts the full cost and keeps track of the defendant. If a defendant's bail is set at $10,000, for example, a payment of $1,000 to a bonds company can get them out of jail.

The amount is often set automatically based on the alleged crime. If someone has access to enough cash, they can get out of jail. But a similar defendant without money could be stuck behind bars for months.

Bail reform advocates for years have fought the cash bail system, and multiple federal courts have ordered several Texas counties to change their pretrial practices. A federal judge in 2017 found that Harris County's steadfast reliance on cash bail for defendants facing low-level charges was unconstitutionally discriminatory against poor people. The county has since significantly changed its release decisions for misdemeanor defendants, and a similar civil rights lawsuit is ongoing for felony cases.

Recently, the battle over cash bail has prompted uproar over inmate deaths in jails overcrowded during the pandemic and high-profile homicides in Harris County allegedly committed by people released on low- or no-cost bonds. Many Republicans and law enforcement officials in the county have fought against changes prompted by the lawsuits, arguing they let too many people out without restrictions and risk public safety.

Abbott unsuccessfully promoted a bail bill similar to his current proposals two years ago. But the new attention on Harris County's jail release practices — and a recent, nationwide increase in homicides — have brought more Republican lawmakers and law enforcement officials around to Abbott's idea.

"We have now what I call bond abuse ... there's a balance here, it's gone too far in the other direction," state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, told the Tribune last week.

Court battles and high-profile homicides

Federal courts have tried to rein in an overreliance on preset money amounts without considering the defendant's specific circumstances. Harris County, for example, was told by a conservative appeals court that it could continue setting cash bail in misdemeanor cases. But it also said arrestees who claimed they could not afford their bail would be entitled to an individual bond reduction hearing within two days of arrest.

Since its first loss in federal district court, Harris County and its newly elected judges have revamped the pretrial release system. Most misdemeanor defendants are now released automatically on a personal recognizance, or PR, bond. Defendants released on such bonds only have to pay if they later break conditions of their release.

A federal court-ordered report found that the new misdemeanor bail system let many more people out of jail before trial, and the released defendants were not any more likely to commit new crimes while on bond.

But Houston law enforcement officials have said recent homicides committed by felony defendants out on bond depict a broken bail system and are demanding change. Crime Stoppers of Houston last month listed dozens of people who were killed in Harris County since 2018 while the suspects were out on bond.

Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo loudly blames crime on "judges who allow violent suspects to violate bond after bond, commit murder and then bond again.

An increase in homicides and aggravated assaults across Texas and the nation last year, and perhaps a heightened awareness of bail practices following the lawsuits, has sparked outrage and fear. Sandra Guerra Thompson is director of the Criminal Justice Institute at the University of Houston Law Center and the deputy monitor in Harris County's misdemeanor lawsuit settlement. She said it's unclear whether more crimes are being committed by those out on felony bonds since the court case or if people are just noticing it more. Much of the recent uptick in Houston violent crime is attributed to people with no criminal history, she said.

"There have always been anecdotes," she said, conceding that each case is tragic.

Bettencourt filed bail legislation last month named after Caitlynne Infinger Guajardo, which quickly garnered support from police officials.

His bill would require more on the use of cash bail — prohibiting courts from releasing a defendant on a no-cash bond if he or she were already out of jail on a no-cash bond and then arrested again, as was Alex Guajardo. Bettencourt's bill would also require a new minimum cash bail of $10,000 in each case for someone accused of three or more felonies.

Federal courts have ruled that a mechanical use of preset cash bail amounts without individual consideration is unconstitutional.

"You just shouldn't be giving out PR bonds like popcorn, especially with people that have already had some strong indication of violent behavior," Bettencourt told the Tribune last week.

State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, who has worked on bail legislation for years, said he is frustrated by lawmakers newly jumping into the arena focusing on locking more people up without looking to help those who are unnecessarily detained. He dismissed the idea of a minimum bond amount, saying it would not necessarily keep violent people in jail.

"A $10,000 bond might sound tough, but bad guys come up with $1,000 all the time," he told the Tribune.

Though the longstanding push to release more poor defendants accused of low-level crimes is often pitted against a desire to keep people considered to be dangerous behind bars, those efforts aren't always in opposition.

For several years, Whitmire and state Rep. Andrew Murr, R-Junction, have partnered in a bipartisan effort for courts to make more risk-based bail decisions and to consider the financial status of defendants. Their goal was to release more poor, low-risk defendants from jail at no cost while, at the same time, those deemed a high risk would be detained before trial without the option of bailing out with cash.

"I run into people that ... care about one side of the issue and not the other," Whitmire said.

Reform advocates on the defense

Attempts to pass the Damon Allen Act failed two years ago. The version that passed the House would have required courts to use a statewide risk assessment tool, consider criminal history when making bail decisions — still largely cash-based, and give training to judicial officers who set bail, much like what Abbott has said he wants this year.

Bail reform advocates worried that the risk assessment could be prejudiced against Black defendants, as arguing criminal history factors without proper consideration could perpetuate existing racial disparities in the criminal justice system. Others turned away from the bill because they said its language would prohibit judges from automatically releasing most misdemeanor defendants from jail on a no-cost bond, as is done in Harris County.

Coming into the 2021 legislative session, many bail reform advocates, losing faith in risk assessment strategies, were originally going to take a step-back approach to consider new strategies and best practices to present in 2023. But with Abbott declaring bail an emergency item, that's no longer possible, instead putting them on defense against what they fear will be backward steps from reform.

"Texas needs to go back to the drawing board and make sure that changes to a pretrial system are actually rooted in safety and justice," said Nick Hudson, a policy and advocacy strategist with the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas. "What that means is making sure that changes to our pretrial system are rooted in legal standards and evidence."

Whitmire is still hoping he can find a way to work with the governor on the emergency bail bill and address wealth-based detention. Though Abbott does not want any language in the emergency bill about the financial status of defendants, the Democratic senator said he is trying to get Texas counties out of losing costly battles in federal court.

He said he is continuing to talk with Abbott, as well as Republican Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht, who for years has supported bail reform efforts to keep less people detained because they are poor.

"The problem is [Abbott] is really fixed on just his language," Whitmire said. "I can't get him to understand the legislative process: You don't always get what you want."

Disclosure: The University of Houston has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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