Month: July 2017

Can a Bail Bill Give Hope to the Dying Art of Bipartisanship?

Out of the unbearable stagnancy of the Congressional health care impasse, one Democratic senator from California has just emerged with a legislative proposal of a different breed. Together with Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, Senator Kamala Harris has proposed a bipartisan bill intended to reform one of the many broken pieces of the criminal justice system: bail.

This bill, cited as the “Pretrial Integrity and Safety Act of 2017,” aims to incentivize the reform of state bail systems by offering grant money to those states and Indian tribes which discontinue the use of money bail as a pretrial release condition. The bill would allow for $10 million to be spent annually per state for three years on grants for bail system reform.

While this price tag may evoke embittered resistance from the average taxpayer, a deeper analysis of the criminal justice system and current fiscal trends unmasks the economic practicality and necessity of such a proposal.

One of the primary objectives of bail is to create an incentive for defendants to re-appear at trial. If a defendant appears at trial, he is able to recollect the money previously posted for bail. In the same vein, pretrial preventive detention seeks to protect public safety. However, evidence suggests that as many as 50% of pretrial detainees considered to be a “high risk” to public safety acquire release through money bail. Inherent systemic flaws—such as those resulting in the release of high-risk defendants based solely on criteria of affluence—shine a glaring light on the vast disparities between intents and outcomes.

Not only do monetary bail systems undermine the foundations of preventive detention, but they appear to violate the terms of the 1983 landmark Supreme Court case, Bearden v. Georgia, 461 U.S. 660, which forbids “punishing a person for his poverty.” Bearing in mind the previously discussed issue of high-risk defendant release, money bail accomplishes less in the way of protecting public safety and more in the way of rewarding the well-to-do and punishing the indigent. In addition, the Sixth Amendment provides for a defendant’s presumption of innocence, placing the burden of proof on the prosecution. Therefore, pretrial detainees are lawfully innocent and should be treated as such. Adding insult to injury, during the pretrial detainment, defendants who are unable to afford bail may undergo unseen afflictions such as loss of employment due to un-forecasted time away from work, lack of access to health care, inability to prepare a trial defense, etc.

How can Congressmen justify to their constituents the spending of $10 million per state on bail grants? A careful look at the hidden costs of the current system makes $10 million look like pocket change. In her bill, Harris reveals the nationwide monetary burden of pretrial detention. Presently, pretrial detainees comprise 95 percent of growth within the jail population since 2000, costing taxpayers $38 million daily and $14 billion annually. While the new bill would only be a starting point and certainly would not eliminate all pretrial detention costs, even its marginal monetary trade-offs and savings would most likely prove favorable for taxpayers in the long run.  

How exactly does the proposed bill de-incentivize pretrial detention and utilize grant money? In short, the bill seeks to incentivize states to use the least-restrictive means to accomplish their desired ends. One key element of the bill is the provision for the “presumption of [the defendant’s] release in most cases.” This element overcomes current systemic failures, minimizes detention costs, and upholds the Sixth Amendment. In order for such presumption to occur, a portion of the grant money would be designated to research-based pretrial assessments that objectively measure the risks associated with releasing each defendant.

Supposing the bill passes, civilians can rest assured that pretrial defendant accountability would not be abolished. On the contrary, the new bill would implement more cost-effective and noninvasive supervisory methods, listing “court date notifications by phone call, letters or postcards, text messages, [or] in-person reminders” as potential options. Recognizing that pretrial detention is necessary for defendants who actually pose risks to public safety, Harris’s bill includes three-prong right-to-counsel criteria for states wishing to qualify for grant money. In other words, for cases in which preventive detention seems necessary, states must ensure the detainee receives a hearing with a judicial officer, counsel, and clear and convincing evidence that he poses danger or risk.

While complex components of the criminal justice system cannot be reduced to simple equations and graphs, Senators Harris and Paul demonstrate in-depth analysis and forethought in their proposed legislation. While many politicians and the media continue to spin on the polarized hamster wheel of health care, taxpayers would do well to consider the potential unseen benefits of bail system reform legislation.


This Just in: Gender-Reveal Parties Are Dangerous for Children!

In addition to raising the bar of absurdity, Cosmopolitan’s recent article, “Dear Parents-to-Be: Stop Celebrating Your Baby’s Gender,” single-handedly shatters the primary tent poles of modern feminism. In this episode of “The Kylee Zempel Podcast,” Kylee deconstructs the article and points out the inconsistencies of modern feminists and the left.

Dear Educators, Stop Exploiting the Innocence of Children

Personal stories of wildly confused children illustrate the cataclysmic effects of language manipulation and indoctrination within our education system and the wider culture. In this episode of “The Kylee Zempel Podcast,” Kylee talks about gender indoctrination in schools and draws parallels to pre-holocaust Nazi propaganda tactics. She also unpacks James Clavell’s “The Children’s Story” and speaks to the danger of ambiguous leftist catch-phrases.

The Problem With “Uber” Strict Regulations

Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed a bill on May 29, 2017, establishing statewide regulations for ride-hailing companies that override strict local ordinances passed in Austin in December 2015.

Texas’s capital city of Austin faced adverse effects following the competition-stifling ordinance passed in a 9-2 vote in 2015. Thinly veiled as a concern for public safety, the pernicious law required all employees of ridesharing services to undergo fingerprint background checks in addition to the background checks already required by Uber and Lyft, the ridesharing services in question.

An article by the Texas Tribune, published December 17, 2015 (the day after the original local ordinance passed), blatantly stated that the law demonstrated an attempt by Austin officials to strike a balance that allowed ridesharing services to conduct their business “while addressing concerns about fairness and safety.”

One could hardly be surprised by the chaos and rising prices that ensued. After all, no successful public policy started with a government-induced level playing field.

One could point a finger at the regulations of the taxi industry as the origin of the whole plight. The taxi industry in the United States faces strict regulations that are disproportionate to the risk of the services offered. In the name of safety, the government has issued laws requiring extensive regulations, background checks, and vehicle maintenance checks. Perhaps the most obvious example of this occurs with the sale of taxi medallions. These medallions are required by law to be affixed to cabs in certain cities nationwide. In requiring medallions for legal operation and limiting the number of medallions available, these cities tightly control the number of taxis that operate at a given time, preventing the market force of demand from dictating taxi supply and, consequently, taxi fare.

As the product of innovation and adaptation, Uber made its debut in 2009 in San Francisco, California, and rapidly spread throughout the nation. Unhindered by burdensome regulations, Uber went from being the least-utilized ground transportation method to the most-used method in the year 2015 alone. Mutually beneficial to both drivers and riders, Uber capitalized on the “invisible hand” of the market, keeping its fare prices upward and downward flexible depending upon market demand and supply. To add insult to injury for cab companies, Uber’s user-friendly app interface epitomized convenience for riders. With low barriers to entry for potential drivers, Uber had created a textbook free enterprise.

Austin city officials undoubtedly did not face incentives to foster healthy competition, and onlookers observed their egregious yet all-too-predictable reaction. Rather than reevaluating existing taxi regulations to keep the market competitive, in a 9-2 vote, Austin’s local officials passed a law requiring ridesharing services to conduct fingerprint-based background checks in addition to their pre-existing background check policies. A small band of winner-and-loser-choosing “experts” had once again succeeded in passing a specious bill promising safety and fairness.

Maintaining their reputation of getting the last word, Uber ceased operations within Austin, refusing to comply with the new fingerprinting standard.

The void created in Austin by Uber’s departure soon prompted new ridesharing services willing to comply with the new local ordinance to materialize. One such example was “RideAustin.” However, without real competition, these services charged fares above the market price, leaving customers extremely unsatisfied. In addition, different safety concerns emerged. Law enforcement officers and locals feared a potential increase in drunk driving incidents and sexual assaults on the streets of Austin at night as affordable transportation decreased and vulnerability increased.

On May 29, 2017, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed a bill into law that would establish statewide regulations for ridesharing companies, overruling Austin’s ordinance established in 2015. Governor Abbott’s new bill implemented reasonable safety requirements for ridesharing companies that allow the market to remain competitive, keeping prices low and consumers satisfied. His bill, House Bill 100, necessitates that ridesharing companies pay an annual $5,000 fee, require driver background checks at the local, state, and national levels without requiring fingerprint checks, and secure a permit from the Texas Department of Licensing.

Upon signing the bill, Uber has returned to the busy streets of Austin, satisfying consumer demand and restoring competition. The week after Uber’s reinstatement, “RideAustin,” the over-priced ridesharing company that emerged in the wake of Uber’s void, experienced a 62% decrease in demand and announced on Facebook that they would begin matching Uber and Lyft’s mile/minute fares.

Who knew increased regulation and decreased competition is actually harmful to consumers and producers? Governor Abbott. Many Austin locals are grateful he took steps to reverse those trends. Other cities would do well to learn from Austin’s blunder and pursue competitive “fares” rather than the illusion of being “fair” to avoid similar mistakes in the future.