Governor Cox Should Veto Utah’s Attempt to Roll Back Bail Reform

Governor Cox Should Veto Utah’s Attempt to Roll Back Bail Reform

The Point

Last year, the Utah legislature passed a bill to help decrease the number of people incarcerated simply because they are too poor to buy their freedom. This month, the legislature passed a bill that would repeal the 2020 law. Governor Spencer Cox can save bail reform with a veto. 

Governor Cox has the power to protect his state’s bail reform: 

  • Governor Cox will need to decide by Thursday whether to protect the progress made by the House Bill 206, the 2020 law that reformed Utah’s bail system with bipartisan support, or to give into the fearmongering of the “tough-on-crime” crowd and the financially incentivized bail bond industry. 
  • Governor Cox should veto House Bill 220, which repeals the substantive changes made by the 2020 law. Not only would this repeal create confusion among courts that have already spent a year working to implement the 2020 law, but it could also lead to increasing incarceration costs—a concern that drove support for reform. “Less people in jail means less money spent on jail beds,” explained Shima Baradaran Baughman, a criminal law professor at the University of Utah, to The Appeal: Political Report.
  • In vetoing the repeal bill, Governor Cox should encourage further efforts to reduce pretrial detention and, as advocates have called for, keep fewer people locked up or under surveillance while they await trial. Those further efforts should involve groups like the Salt Lake Community Bail Fund, which has been tracking the impact of the 2020 bail reform since its passage. 

The 2020 law was a critical step toward curtailing the harms of cash bail:

  • Cash bail means people remain in jail not because they are dangerous, but because they are poor. As Utah State Representative Stephanie Pitcher noted in The Appeal: Political Report, “[I]t’s such a nonsensical system that we decide pretrial release based on wealth.” Pitcher, a former prosecutor, sponsored last year’s bail reform bill. 
  • House Bill 206 requires judges to impose the “least restrictive conditions of release” that will ensure a person returns to court. It also provided a matrix for judges to use to determine bail amounts, which advocates note suggests a maximum of $5,000.
  • House Bill 206 has already shown its positive impact: “Founders of the Salt Lake Community Bail Fund said they were able to free far more people after HB 206 took effect because bail sums dropped from the ‘astronomically large’ amounts that defendants were held on before.” Advocates do, however, point to continued pretrial incarceration allowed in the wake of HB 206’s passage as an area that needs to be addressed.

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