Lawmakers discuss charitable bail organizations, legislation

A bill related to charitable bail that did not receive final passage during the 2022 legislative session may be given new life in 2023.

The Interim Joint Committee on Judiciary discussed the legislation on Thursday along with the work of charitable bail organizations.

Earlier this year, Rep. John Blanton, R-Salyersville, sponsored House Bill 313, which would have prevented charitable bail organizations from posting more than $5,000 in bail for anyone charged with a crime. It also would have limited the types of charges the organizations can post bail for.

HB 313 advanced off the House floor in March by a 76-19 vote, but it did not receive final passage in the Senate. If Blanton wishes to try to pass the bill again, he will have to refile it in 2023.

On Thursday, Carrie Cole and Shameka Parrish-Wright, both with the national, non-profit charitable bail organization The Bail Project, testified before the committee on what their organization does, how it is funded, why they feel Kentuckians need access to their services and more.

“We pay bail for low income individuals who are legally presumed innocent and whom a judge has deemed eligible for release from jail contingent upon paying bail,” Cole said. “After release, we connect our clients to voluntary social services and community resources as needed.”

Although it is a national organization, Cole said The Bail Project has opened an office in Louisville and serves an additional 28 Kentucky counties. Since 2018, the organization has assisted nearly 4,000 Kentuckians, she said.

Blanton said he felt his work with Cole and Parrish-Wright during the legislative session was “amicable” and that the final version of HB 313 approved by the House “accomplished a little bit” of what both he and The Bail Project wanted.

Blanton noted that The Bail Project isn’t the only charitable bail group in Kentucky, and that he and others have concerns about people who commit violent crimes reoffending while out on bail. He said the goal of his bill was to try to protect victims and prevent tragedies.

“Let’s be cautious,” Blanton said. “Let’s not go down this road of getting under the guise of feel good things that make us feel better about ourselves and create a society where we create more crimes, because when you have more crimes, you have more victims.”

Committee co-chair Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Crofton, questioned how the organization chooses which people to post bail for.

Cole said when the organization receives a referral, the bail amount, charge and flight risk are among the factors considered before making a decision.

“Our referrals generally focus on people who are stuck in poverty and can’t get out (of jail), and they’re usually lower-level offenses,” Parrish-Wright added.

Rep. McKenzie Cantrell, D-Louisville, suggested that if Blanton’s bill or something similar is proposed again next session, it should focus on the types of charges that charitable bail organizations can post bail for, not the maximum amount.

Rep. Jason Petrie, R-Elkton, said bail acts as a way to ensure a defendant will show up to their court dates. He suggested The Bail Project start posting bail in their name instead of on a client’s behalf.

Cole and Parrish-Wright said their clients are motivated to show up to court because they know that once their bail is returned to the organization the money can be used to help someone else.

The next Interim Joint Committee on Judiciary meeting is currently scheduled for Aug. 18 at 11 a.m.