Legislators and let us be frank here — care not one whit about whether a poor man can afford to get himself out of jail.
Unless, of course, this concern serves them.
Senate Bill 186 was introduced on Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee. It has to be one of the most appalling pieces of legislation of the session.
It would allow so-called 10 percent deposit bail, a bonding mechanism that has been a disaster in jurisdictions where it's permitted.
The way it works is a judge sets bail at, let's say, $10,000. The accused may then pay $1,000, sign a promissory note pledging to pay the rest if he doesn't return to court and walks out of the jailhouse door.
It sounds simple enough, until you get into the details. First, we should go back to Wednesday.
So many opponents of the bill showed up at the state Capitol for the hearing that it had to be moved from a small, third-floor room to the spacious former Supreme Court chamber on the second floor.
When the committee chair, Sen. Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, asked for those who were opposed to the bill to stand, nearly every person in the room did so.
The bill, if passed, would put all 485 bail agents in Colorado out of business and send the eight large surety companies that insure them running for the exits.
"If this bill passes, we will leave Colorado because we wouldn't have any business here anymore," said Dave Hyatt, vice president of HCC Surety Group of Englewood, which insures 75 bail agents.
"This will be devastating to the bail industry in Colorado," he told the committee.
Michael Whitlock, vice president of American Surety Co. of Indianapolis, flew in for the hearing and said his company would almost certainly discontinue business in Colorado.
Surety companies paid more than $450,000 in taxes to the state in 2009, a figure he said has since risen by more than $100,000.
"It puts the government squarely in competition with private business," he told me. "And I'm afraid of anything where the government just makes money with no accountability for ensuring those released on bail make it to court."
The bill makes no provision to ensure those released from custody will appear in court, which is the bail industry's stock in trade. Neither does it set forth a mechanism to collect the outstanding 90 percent of the bail amount from those who fail to appear.
In Philadelphia, which has 10 percent deposit bail, the "forfeited" bail by court no-shows in 2009 topped $1 billion, of which the city has collected not a cent, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Sen. John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, the bill's sponsor, testified again and again that its greatest benefit will be public safety. This is questionable.
Under this law, you can get out of jail for 10 percent of the bail amount, he said, but the accused can also be ordered to wear a tracking bracelet, attend drug and alcohol classes, undergo regular breath and urine tests and even be given a nightly curfew — protecting the public.
Under his proposal, people basically will have to wear the scarlet letter jewelry of the convicted, and undergo and pay for classes and tests despite being convicted of absolutely nothing.
And tell me again who will be collecting the money from all of this? That is outrageous.
SB 186 is nothing more than a desperate money grab by a hopelessly cash-strapped state government that for some reason now believes it can do a job that is being effectively handled by private companies and citizens.
Putting hundreds of small-business people out of work in these desperate times is foolish. Giving free rein to criminals, who will know better than anyone that no one will come looking for them, is dangerous.
By the way, the bill made it out of committee on a 6-2 vote.
Bill Johnson writes Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Reach him at 303-954-2763 orwjohnson@denverpost.com."