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Repeal of Utah’s year-old bail reform now on governor’s desk

SHARE Repeal of Utah’s year-old bail reform now on governor’s desk

Crystal Powell, with the Utah Crime Victim Legal Clinic, left, discusses a legislative effort to repeal last year’s bail reform during a press conference at the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s office in Salt Lake City on Monday, March 1, 2021. County attorneys and public defenders from Salt Lake, Davis and Utah counties denounced what they called a “bad faith” proposal to undo the law now keeping suspects in jail based mainly on the risk they pose and not whether they can afford bail.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — A measure to repeal last year’s bail reform is awaiting final approval from Gov. Spencer Cox after passing the Utah Legislature.

The reform, pitched as a change to hold suspects based on the risks they pose and not their ability to afford bail, passed the 2020 Legislature with broad support and took effect in October.

The Utah Sheriffs Association and law enforcers in rural counties have contended the changes allowed for some dangerous offenders to be released, a claim the law’s supporters reject. Prosecutors and defense attorneys along the Wasatch Front have said it’s working in their counties.

The repeal bill’s sponsor in the Senate, Sen. Kirk Cullimore, R-Sandy, told colleagues Wednesday that more populous counties have pretrial programs that have helped roll out the changes and keep track of offenders, but other counties don’t.

“People are being held that should not be held,” he said. “People are being released that should not be released.” 

Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, rejected the notion during the debate on HB220.

“The most dangerous people are being held without bail,” he said, describing the old system as unjust and “not defensible.”

The Senate voted 20-8 Wednesday in favor of repeal, with some senators expressing misgivings but ultimately voting to undo last year’s law.

Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, who brought a competing bill to tweak last year’s reform, told colleagues the repeal measure “creates a tremendous amount of confusion” and conflicts with portions of law predating last year’s changes.

Sen. Jake Anderegg, R-Lehi, said it was difficult to evaluate opposing arguments from Cullimore and Weiler, who are both attorneys. Anderegg said he was primarily concerned about fairness, and while the reform effort appeared to make the system more just, he was torn by “aspects of what is happening throughout the state.”