MARYLAND’S LEGISLATIVE Black Caucus has added its influential voice to that of the state attorney general and Maryland’s highest court about the inequities of a bail system that is tilted against poor people. Whether the General Assembly will pay attention to all the sound advice remains uncertain. Arrayed against their persuasive arguments and evidence are the lobbying clout and campaign cash of the bail-bond industry, which is mounting an aggressive effort to protect its own interests.
With the legislative session entering its final weeks, the issue of cash bail has emerged as one of the fiercest battles. Lawmakers are being pressured — with the Senate already giving in — to pass legislation that would undermine rule changes that were carefully studied, debated and unanimously adopted by the Maryland Court of Appeals. The court, acting after Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D) had concluded Maryland’s money bail practices were likely unconstitutional, approved rules set to go into effect in July that would require judges to impose the “least onerous” pretrial conditions for defendants judged not to pose a risk.
What the court understood — and what the Legislative Black Caucus endorsed with its overwhelming vote Thursday to oppose the Senate bill — is that decisions about who should be jailed should be tied to a defendant’s flight risk and threat to public safety and not to their bank accounts. Cash bail disproportionately affects minorities who, locked up as they await trial (often for minor offenses), often lose jobs and homes and even see their families break apart. A number of states have moved away from cash bail, and their experience has shown not only no threat to public safety but savings to local jurisdictions that no longer have to bear the excessive costs of incarceration.
Of course, facts like that matter little when the industry, as detailed by The Post’s Ovetta Wiggins, is throwing lavish dinners, flooding Annapolis with lobbyists and pouring thousands of dollars of cash into the campaign coffers of lawmakers willing to carry its water. Sen. C. Anthony Muse (D-Prince George’s), who sponsored the Senate bill, received $5,000 and Sen. Robert A. Zirkin (D-Baltimore County), chairman of the Judicial Proceedings Committee which approved Mr. Muse’s bill, received $21,000, according to The Post’s report.
The bill is now in the House rules committee because it missed a deadline in moving from the Senate. House Speaker Michael Busch (D-Anne Arundel) should make sure it stays — and dies — there.