Kentucky lawmakers advance bill to limit bail organizations
Supporters said the case of Quintez Brown, who was bailed out shortly after he opened fire on a mayoral candidate, highlighted the need for restrictions
By Bruce Schreiner and Piper Hudspeth Blackburn
FRANKFORT, Ky. — Legislation aimed at putting limits on groups that post bail for inmates gained momentum Wednesday in Kentucky's legislature, a week after a suspected gunman's release from jail after being charged with shooting at a Louisville mayoral candidate.
The bill's supporters said the case of Quintez Brown — who is charged with opening fire on the candidate — highlighted the need to restrict organizations that bail out inmates. Opponents asked lawmaker not to react with "a heavy hand," saying it would result in poor people languishing in jail.
The Kentucky House Judiciary Committee advanced the measure, which would limit charitable organizations to post bail only for inmates being held on bond amounts up to $5,000.
"We're not trying to outlaw these entities," said Republican Rep. Jason Nemes, a leading sponsor of the bill. "We're trying to say that they can't bail people out for serious offenses."
Brown, a social justice activist running as an independent for Louisville's metro council, has been charged with attempted murder and four counts of wanton endangerment. Democratic mayoral candidate Craig Greenberg was not hit by the gunfire but said a bullet grazed his sweater.
Brown was released from the local jail two days after the shooting when a group called the Louisville Community Bail Fund paid the $100,000 cash bond.
"Basically what they did was circumvented ... discretion of the judge to place a higher bond for the protection of the public," GOP Rep. John Blanton, another sponsor of the bill, said Wednesday.
Under terms of his home incarceration, Brown was fitted with a GPS ankle monitor and is confined to his home.
The legislation, introduced weeks before Greenberg was shot at, goes to the full House next and would still need Senate approval. Republicans have supermajorities in both chambers.
When asked Wednesday for comments about the bill, Greenberg's campaign referred to his comments after Brown's release from jail. At the time, Greenberg said he was "traumatized" by the news that the man charged with firing at him was placed on home incarceration.
"Our criminal justice system is clearly broken. It is nearly impossible to believe that someone can attempt murder on Monday and walk out of jail on Wednesday," Greenberg said in that statement. "If someone is struggling with a mental illness and is in custody, they should be evaluated and treated in custody. We must work together to fix this system."
The bill's supporters on Wednesday pointed to examples of people being accused of committing serious offenses soon after being bailed out of jail.
Opponents said the bill's restrictions would hurt people unable to cover their own bail. Organizations have bailed out thousands of inmates from jails in Louisville and elsewhere in Kentucky in recent years. Those groups have come under increasing scrutiny from GOP lawmakers.
"I respectfully ask you not to react to recent media reports with a heavy hand," said Shameka Parrish-Wright, with the Louisville chapter of the national Bail Project. "The vast majority of people out on bail go to work, school, return home to their families without incident."
Chanelle Helm, an organizer with the Louisville Community Bail Fund and a member of Black Lives Matter Louisville, pointed to several inmate deaths at the Louisville metro jail in recent months.
Nemes said the bill's sponsors "believe in bail" and think it's "right for the overwhelming majority of our people." Besides setting a $5,000 limit for groups posting bail, the bill also would prohibit those organizations from bailing out someone charged with domestic violence offenses. And it would set public reporting requirements for the groups, including the listing of donors and expenditures.
Meanwhile, Brown had his case sent to a grand jury Wednesday in Louisville. Brown's attorney and prosecutors have agreed to waive the preliminary hearing and a grand jury will meet to consider indictments March 21.
Brown must continue to have no contact with Greenberg or his campaign staff and cannot possess firearms, the judge said Wednesday.
Police said Brown appears to have acted alone and the motive remains under investigation.