Senate Bill 532, filed by state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, would make it so PR bonds cannot be given to anyone arrested while already out on a PR bond for another offense or anyone arrested for a felony charge if they already have two or more felony charges pending. The bill would also make it so anyone with three or more felony charges would receive a minimum bond level of $10,000.
Bettencourt announced the bill at a Feb. 1 press conference alongside officials with Crime Stoppers of Houston and the family of Caitlynne Infinger Guajardo, a woman who allegedly was killed in 2019 by her husband after he previously assaulted her and was released on a PR bond.
The bond amount for each felony arrestee is set by the judge hearing the case, and Bettencourt said those judges in Harris County were too often releasing defendants on PR bonds—meaning they do not have to post any money to be released—or low-dollar felony bonds. This has led to an increase in crime committed by reoffenders, he said.
"This situation has to stop," Bettencourt said. "While I'm filing a bill today ... I am calling on the judges to Harris County to stop this today."
State Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, expressed support for the bill at the Feb. 1 conference. He said action at the state level is needed because judges and officials at the local level could no longer be relied upon.
"If the current administration or the current judges won’t do it, then that’s what the Legislature exists for, and we’re going to solve this problem," Huberty said.
The bill was filed as Harris County's felony bail practices are being challenged in federal court. Plaintiffs in the case Russell v. Harris County allege that the county's bail bond system violates the U.S. Constitution by holding people in jail pretrial because they are too poor to afford bond.
The county's bail practices for misdemeanors were declared unconstitutional in 2017 as a part of a similar lawsuit that would later be settled in 2019. In that case, U.S. Judge Lee Rosenthal ruled the county could not hold people in jail strictly based on their ability to afford bond, and the county was ordered to reform its bail practices in a way that sees most misdemeanor arrestees released on general order bonds.
At the Feb. 1 press conference, Crime Stoppers Houston CEO Rania Mankarious said Crime Stoppers supported the misdemeanor bond reform, but the push to reform felony bail "inherently ignores the cries of the victims while creating a pathway for career habitual offenders."
Andy Kahan, director of victim services and advocacy with the Houston branch of Crime Stoppers, said he has identified 90 people using court records who have been killed by defendants released on multiple felony bonds or PR bonds, or after forfeiting a bond, over the past two years.
He also called attention to two law enforcement officers—one with the Houston Police Department and one with the Harris County Sheriff's Department—who had allegedly been shot by defendants with multiple felony bonds within the past week.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott also released his priorities for the 2021 legislative session Feb. 1, which included bail bond reform as an emergency item.
"Public safety is also at risk because of a broken bail system that recklessly allows dangerous criminals back onto the streets," Abbott said in a Feb. 1 address.
Bettencourt said his bill already had the support of several Houston-area lawmakers, including Reps. Tom Oliverson, R-Cypress; Jim Murphy, R-Houston; Valerie Swanson, R-Spring; Sam Harless, R-Spring; Mike Schofield, R-Katy; and Dennis Paul, R-Houston.
The bill was submitted as the Caitlynne Rose Infinger Guajardo Act. Melanie Infinger, Caitlynne's mother, said the pain of losing her daughter was unimaginable, but she said she was driven to keep fighting for reform.
"I knew that my daughter's death was preventable, and I knew that for the rest of my days I was going to fight to make sure a change was made in her name, that she would be a catalyst to make sure this does not happen to anybody else," she said.