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'Dog the Bounty Hunter' joins opponents of bail reform in California

Duane and Beth Chapman (Ronen Zilberman / Associated Press)
Duane and Beth Chapman (Ronen Zilberman / Associated Press)

Celebrity bounty hunters Duane “Dog” and Beth Chapman on Tuesday were among dozens of bounty hunters and bail agents to voice opposition to a state bill that would drastically transform the way judges award criminal defendants bail in California.

The packed hearing before the Assembly Public Safety Committee signals the ramping up of what state lawmakers have predicted will likely be the largest criminal justice battle at the Capitol this legislative session.

Assembly Bill 42, introduced by Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Oakland), would limit offenders from having to post money as a condition of release from jail and would shift some power from judges to pretrial-services agencies to assess the risks they would pose if allowed out in the community.

It moved out of the public safety committee with a 4-2 vote. An identical bill in the other chamber, introduced by Sen. Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys), is pending before the Senate Appropriations Committee.

At Tuesday’s hearing, criminal justice reform advocates crowded the hallways outside the committee room, as authors of the bill emphasized the burden on taxpayers of jailing people without convictions, and the toll on poor defendants who could not afford their release. Supporters pointed to the lower jail populations and success rates of “risk-assessment” models in other cities, including Santa Clara and Washington, D.C.

Bonta said reform was long overdue in California.

“Right now, we have a system where if you are a risk to the public and you are a flight risk, meaning you might not show up to your next hearing, but you have enough money in your pocket, then you could post bail and go free,” he said.

Opponents said reforming the bail system would be costly and do away with small family businesses that have survived generations.

They urged lawmakers to take victims into consideration and urged them to hold off on their bills until the system was studied further. One study by the Pretrial Detention Reform Work Group, appointed by state Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye, plans to release recommendations on best pretrial detention practices in December.

Speaking to reporters after the hearing, Duane Chapman called the hearing a victory for bail agents, saying lawmakers had agreed to go back to the drawing board.

The state bail system was in need of modernization, and California should be a leader, he said. But he said fugitives should not be allowed to go free.

"Poor people don't break the law," he said. "It's not the poor man that runs. He has no money to run."

7:40 p.m.: This article was updated with the final vote count.

This article was originally published at 12:05 p.m.

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