Bail Reform Bill AB 1347 – Signed Into Law Three Years after Related Recommendations by the Department of Insurance

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By Julia Zeigler

AB 1347 (Jones-Sawyer), as amended on June 16, 2021, is sponsored by the California Department of Insurance and adds section 1276.1 to the Penal Code, relating to bail. The bill amends existing law that provides for the procedure of approving bail and issuing an order for the appearance and release of an arrested person. Existing law regulates the undertaking of bail and the licensing of bail agents and bail solicitors by the Insurance Commissioner. The bill will eliminate the bail bond and immigration bond industry’s practice of charging add-on premiums through “renewal fees.” It also protects against predatory tactics used to inflate costs that burden families with potentially thousands of dollars in additional allegedly unfair and unnecessary add-on costs.

Pursuant to the Bail Bond Regulatory Act, sections 1830, et seq, of the Insurance Code, the Department of Insurance (DOI) regulates bail bonds, which are are underwritten and issued by licensed bail agents who act as the appointed representatives of licensed surety insurance companies. [26:1 CRLR 156]

AB 1347 amends existing state law by 1) prohibiting excessive bail; 2) requiring a person be released on bail except when charged with certain capital and felony charges; 3) requiring a court to take into consideration the protection of the public, the safety of the victim, seriousness of the offense charged, previous criminal record; 4) requiring the superior court judges in each county to prepare, adopt, and annually revise a uniform countywide bail schedule; 5) allowing a defendant to ask the judge for release on bail lower than that provided in the schedule of bail; 6) specifying conditions for a defendant’s release in their recognizance; 7) providing bail is forfeited if an on-bail defendant fails to appear for any scheduled court appearance; 8) regulating and licenses surety companies that write immigration bonds; and 9) regulating and licensing agents that execute bail bonds.

In February of 2018, then DOI Commissioner Dave Jones released a report with recommendations applicable to California’s Bail System. The report contains recommendations to reform the bail system in many ways, including changing the way the bail system has a disparate impact on lower-income people who cannot afford California’s high bail costs. The purpose of the bail reform effort is to beneficially reduce jail overcrowding and improve pretrial release decision-making. The Jones Report contends that California’s current bail system unnecessarily compromises victim and public safety because it bases a person’s liberty on financial resources rather than the likelihood of future criminal behavior.  It also allegedly exacerbates socioeconomic disparities and racial bias.

According to the author, AB 1347 is intended to address these issues. He notes that this bill is about racial and economic justice. The immigration bonds system in particular is an area of concern for its critics.  Allegedly, the system has been prone to abuse by taking advantage of Spanish-speaking immigrants in detention and their families—who are more likely to be misled and suffer a lack of understanding of the system [26:1 CRLR 155]. The bill is intended to render more equitable the alleged socio-economic imbalance in the current bail system.

Governor Newsom signed AB 1347 on October 1, 2021 (Chapter 444, Statutes of 2021).

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