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House to vote on bill banning charitable bail groups from acting in Ky. in certain cases

House Bill 313 would ban charitable bail organizations from posting bond for suspects whose bail is more than $5,000.
Published: Feb. 23, 2022 at 8:35 PM EST
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - House Bill 313, which would prevent charitable bail organizations from posting bond for suspects whose bail exceeds $5,000, was approved by the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday following emotional and, at times, heated testimony.

HB 313 would also block bail groups from posting bond for domestic violence suspects, as sponsored by Reps. Jason Nemes (R-District 33) and John Blanton (R-District 92). If the bill is passed, organizations would be required to inform the public about who they bail out, and if the suspect reoffends, the bond money would be forfeited to the victim.

The bill, dubbed “Madelynn’s Law,” is named after Madelynn Trout, a 17-year-old Butler senior who was killed on Dixie Highway on March 1, 2021, after police say Michael Dewitt was bailed out of jail by the Louisville Bail Project and then went on a drug-fueled crime spree that ended in the deadly crash. The Louisville Bail Project, a non-profit organization that uses donations to bail people out of jail in an effort to make the bail system more equitable, paid Dewitt’s $5,000 bond; the group’s leaders stated that they were unaware of Dewitt’s lengthy criminal history in Ohio when they posted his bond.

“The reason that my daughter is not here is at the hands of the Louisville Bail Project and its supporters,” Marcie Lynn Troutt, Madelynn’s mother testified.

Nemes told WAVE News the bill helps protect the public’s safety by putting a cap on bond amounts the groups can pay and keeping violent suspects behind bars.

“Bail is there to make sure that a person can get out while their trial is pending, but also to protect the public,” Nemes said. “A human being who knows the defendant is the best way we can ensure the protection of the public (when it comes to bailing suspects out of jail),” he added. “They have a better understanding of whether they’re going to be a danger to themselves or the community, or whether they’re going to be a flight risk. When you remove that human judgement from the equation, then you have problems like we’ve had in Kentucky and in other states.”

However, bail organizations claim that “problems,” such as what happened to Troutt, are extremely rare. The Louisville Bail Project told committee members that they hope people will pay more attention to the success stories of those they bail out.

“What the community bail fund does is build support systems for the people who do not have the support,” Chenelle Helm, the Louisville Community Bail Fund and Black Lives Matter organizer said. “There are people who have way harsher crimes, and those folks need things.”

Helm added that some suspects need mental health treatment and substance abuse counseling they cannot receive in jail.

Two representatives, both Democrats, voted against the bill’s passage.

“This is a failure of the system, and I can’t put people that are not a threat in the system we have because they can’t afford bail,” Rep. Pamela Stevenson (D) said. “It’s broke, it’s broke, but making it work on the back’s of poor people doesn’t work. Let’s fix the system.”

Troutt’s family told WAVE News that they do not want nonviolent, first-time offenders to be thrown in jail because they cannot afford bail, but they also believe House Bill 313 is necessary to hold bail groups accountable.

“These people, whether it’s a family member or organization that’s going to put forth that money to let someone out, they should know who they’re letting out and what their prior offenses are,” Troutt’s mother said. “If they hadn’t let this man out, our daughter, I would like to say would still be with us here today.”

HB 313 passed the House Judiciary Committee 11 to 2, with five representatives declining to vote. Two representatives, both Democrats, voted against the bill’s passage.

The bill is now scheduled to be introduced on the House floor.

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