Busch: Maryland House will not vote on cash bail bill

The bail bond industry's hope of preserving the role of cash in determining who gets out of jail was quashed late Thursday, as House Speaker Michael E. Busch ruled out bringing to the House floor a bill that would do so.

Busch said his Democratic leadership team polled the party caucus and found there were not enough votes to pass the measure even if it squeaked out of a strongly divided House Judiciary Committee on the strength of the support of Republicans and a handful of Democrats.

The speaker said the measure would have received fewer than the 71 votes needed to pass the House.

"There's not enough votes, so it's not coming out," the Anne Arundel County Democrat said. His decision effectively kills the bill.

Just hours before, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph F. Vallario Jr., regarded as a bail industry ally, delayed action on the measure. The Prince George's County Democrat gave no explanation.

The battle over bail has been one of the fiercest of the General Assembly session, pitting Attorney General Brian E. Frosh and criminal justice reform advocates against the well-financed and politically powerful bail bond industry.

Frosh issued an opinion last October questioning whether Maryland's pretrial release system, under which poor defendants could linger in jail because they couldn't afford bail, would withstand a constitutional challenge. The state's highest court largely accepted his argument in February, when it adopted a rule that retained a role for cash bail but put it at the bottom of the list of preferences for pretrial release conditions.

Bail bond agents and their supporters in the legislature sought a bill that would have restored bail to a position of parity with other conditions such as home detention, ankle bracelet monitoring or required treatment for drug addiction. Their opponents argued that the Court of Appeals rule should be allowed to take effect July 1 without legislative tinkering so that lawmakers could observe it in action between now and next year's legislative session.

The bill passed the Senate after Republicans and a minority of Democrats vote for it. Busch's opposition ensures that will not happen in the House.

The death blow for the legislation might have occurred when the Legislative Black Caucus voted, 31-5, last week to oppose the Senate bill.

Del. Cheryl Glenn, who chairs the black caucus, said she was prepared to argue at a House Democratic caucus meeting Friday morning that the bill should not emerge from the Judiciary Committee.

Glenn called the outcome "amazing."

"It just shows the strength of what can happen when you come together and stick together," she said.

Glenn said the black caucus had won the support of the Asian and Hispanic caucuses as well as the entire all-Democratic Montgomery delegation, the largest in the House.

With the speaker's decision, it appears the Baltimore Democrat will get her wish and post a significant victory for the resurgent caucus.

A spokesman for the bail industry could not be reached for comment.

mdresser@baltsun.com

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