House of Delegates approves bill to help relieve jail overcrowding

CHARLESTON — The House of Delegates approved and sent to the Senate on Monday a bill to help relieve regional jail overcrowding.

HB 2190 bill requires that except for good cause shown, a magistrate must release a misdemeanor pre-trial defendant on personal recognizance. The exceptions are for misdemeanors involving actual violence or threat of violence, victims who are minors, a deadly weapon, controlled substances and serious traffic offenses.

Delegate Terri Sypolt chats before the floor session.

The bill includes a Friday amendment offered on the floor by Delegate Brandon Steele, R-Raleigh, saying that within 10 days of the setting of bond or bail, a prosecuting attorney may bring a motion to set cash or surety bond. The presiding court shall then hold a summary hearing upon the motion within five days.

Steele said that there will be situations where the magistrate and the arresting officer know nothing about the defendant, who may be a repeat offender or a risk of jumping bail.

Delegate Buck Jennings (left) talks before the floor session with Delegate Eric Nelson.

Apart from possibly alleviating some jail overcrowding, Judiciary chair John Shott, R-mercer, said the bill takes a humanitarian approach to pre-trial bail setting.

The committee had learned that pre-trial defendants spend an average six days in jail before posting bail. “Think about what that might do to your ability to retain a job,” he said while explaining the bill.

Also, he said, magistrates are inconsistent about setting bail. Some are more harsh than others and prone to set excessive bail. Some want to look tough on crime to enhance their chances of re-election.

HB 2190 passed 91-4.

Other bill action

HB 2362 was on second reading and was amended to honor the person who inspired it.

Current law allows county clerks to employ special poll workers to deliver emergency absentee ballots, upon request, to voters in hospitals or healthcare facilities within 35 miles of the county seat or in an adjacent county, or to voters in a nursing home within the county.

This bill would extend that to voters confined to a specific location within the county – typically their home – within seven days of the election. It would apply to a voter confined with an illness or injury; a physical disability; or immobility due to advanced age.

Delegate Andrew Robinson proposed to have the bill named the Ardala Miller Memorial Act, in memory of Delegate Rodney Miller, D-Boone, who is lead sponsor and whose mother inspired creation of the bill.

Floor amendments are usually passed or rejected by voice vote, but feel-good honorific actions like this one are typically done by roll call so everyone can be on the record supporting it. But this amendment drew one “nay” vote, from Delegate Marshall Wilson, R-Berkeley.

Also on second reading was HB 2008 It says that if no candidate in a state Supreme Court election receives more than 40 percent of the vote in the May election, the two highest vote-getters will face off in a runoff in November.

Leadership postponed action on this one for a day, so it remains on second reading.

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