Proponents of a referendum campaign to repeal bail reform legislation in California submitted a petition of nearly 600,000 signatures to elections officials last week, according to a Nov. 20 press release.

Senate Bill 10 – passed in August and set to go into effect in October of 2019 – would eliminate the California cash bail system for suspects awaiting trial and replace it with risk-assessment algorithms.

If certified, the referendum to repeal the widely criticized bill would be placed on the November 2020 general election ballot, and the law would not go into effect.

Californians Against the Reckless Bail Scheme – the coalition behind the initiative – had 90 days from the date the bill was passed (Aug. 28) to collect 365,880 valid signatures from registered California voters. The group, largely funded by Triton Management Services, Financial Casualty & Surety and Lexington National Insurance, consisted of public safety leaders, criminal justice reformers, crime victims’ advocates, concerned citizens and bail industry leaders.

The coalition is sponsored by the American Bail Coalition (ABC), a trade organization “comprised of national bail insurance companies that are responsible for underwriting criminal bail bonds throughout the U.S” with the goal of protecting the “constitutional right to bail by working with local and state policymakers to bring best practices to the system of release from custody pending trial.”

The Secretary of State certified Tuesday that enough counties have completed their signature counts to order a statewide random sample signature verification process, according to campaign manager Jeff Flint.

Each of California’s 58 counties has 30 business days to verify and report how many valid signatures were submitted, Flint said.

SB 10 would eliminate 10 million to 15 million bail industry jobs, ABC Executive Director Jeff Clayton told the Enterprise in a phone interview, adding that the replacement risk-assessment system would be entirely based on the scores of an algorithm that is incorrect 30 percent to 40 percent of the time.

If a suspect were graded an unreasonable risk level given his or her criminal history and the severity of his or her crime, said suspect would have to hire a lawyer and a statistics expert to challenge that his or her risk score is not based on sound scientific evidence, Clayton said.

Clayton said that other states that have taken the algorithm-based risk-scoring approach saw jail populations boom as a result, referencing Maryland in particular.

If the referendum effort is successful and the bill is voted down, Clayton said the next step will be to reach a compromise with proponents of eliminating the cash bail system.

“If we stay the law and voters vote against it, we’ll be right back where we were,” Clayton said. “We would like to see a compromise system. If we’re making a little less money, fine. Our hope is that a deal can be made and this fight doesn’t go on for several years.”

Over recent years, the ABC has proposed a number of alternatives to scrapping cash bail completely, including lowering or eliminating bail schedules, Clayton explained.

“Everybody believes improvements can be made,” Clayton said, adding, “This is one of the worst bail reforms I’ve seen in my entire career.”

Brenda Yeadon, owner of Jailbird Bail Bonds in Murphys, said that she is confident that the bill would be voted down if placed on the ballot.

“Obviously this is great news for the bail industry,” Yeadon said of the signature initiative. “It is my opinion that with the choice now in the hands of California voters, the people will decide what is best for California regarding SB 10, and in their wisdom, I have every confidence that they will ensure the defendant’s constitutional right to post bail by voting against such legislation.”

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