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Connecticut Republicans seek public input on bail reform

Members of the committee say the changes, to be considered by a gathering of state judges at a meeting next month, don't require legislative approval.

Published: May 24, 2023 11:00pm

(The Center Square) -

Connecticut House Republicans are calling for a public hearing on a proposal by the state's court system that would reduce bail for some criminal defendants, a move they argue could jeopardize public safety.

The judicial branch's Rules Committee voted earlier this month to approve a plan to lower the percentage of bail a person must post to be released after they are arrested from 10% to 7% and increase the cap on bonds that can be posted through the court clerk’s office to $50,000 from $20,000, among other changes.

Members of the committee say the changes, to be considered by a gathering of state judges at a meeting next month, don't require legislative approval.

But House Republicans want the proposal to be vetted by the legislature judiciary committee before the changes are approved.

State Rep. Craig Fishbein, R-Wallingford, the GOP's ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, argues that state law requires the public to vet any proposed rules to the state's court system.

"The public has a right to speak directly with their elected officials, and those officials have the right to debate and vote on any such rules so that everyone in the judicial system — defendants, victims, bondsmen, practitioners, and court employees— understands the expectations and limits,” he said in a statement. "That is the process, and that process should be respected."

House Republican Leader Vincent Candelora said the bail law changes would have "public safety implications for Connecticut residents," including victims of crime.

“With that in mind, we believe it’s not only imperative for the General Assembly’s Judiciary Committee to hold a public hearing, we contend it’s required," he said.

Supporters of the changes have argued that it would make the state's justice system fairer, noting that the inability to make bail for some criminal defendants means possibly losing a job, housing, and even custody of their children.

The wrangling comes as Connecticut lawmakers advance a proposal to amend the state Constitution to remove language that prevents criminal defendants from being held without bail in most cases. The changes, if approved, would allow the state to establish a risk-based pretrial system and set new terms around pretrial release.

The changes were recommended by the Connecticut Sentencing Commission, an independent agency conducting criminal justice policy research.

But Candelora and other Republican lawmakers argue that crime in Connecticut is increasing and that loosening the state's cash bail requirements only worsens it.

"The last thing that residents, let alone crime victims, expect to see is our judicial system make life easier for criminals," he said. "Yet, that’s exactly what the proposed Practice Book changes on bail would do."

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