The Lead

Wolf says he opposes Pa. House bill tightening rules on nonprofit bail funds

By: - November 18, 2021 10:07 am

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf speaking with the press. Governor Tom Wolf visited Pine Grove Furnace State Park in Cumberland County Friday, July 31, 2021 to highlight the importance of outdoor spaces to our well-being during the pandemic and announce a plan for Pennsylvania’s state parks of tomorrow (Commonwealth Media Services photo).

Gov. Tom Wolf’s office says it opposes a controversial bill that passed the Pennsylvania House this week that would regulate nonprofit bail funds as for-profit bail bondsmen. 

In an email Wednesday evening, Wolf spokesperson Elizabeth Rementer said that the bill would create barriers to the nonprofit groups, which collect community donations to pay to free people from pretrial detention, and provide them with services as they await trial.

Under the proposal sponsored by state Rep. Kate Klunk, R-York, any effort that helps more than three people pay bail would have to be licensed by the state Insurance Department, and maintain a physical office in every county where they aid people. 

The bill also would prevent someone with a criminal record from starting a fund.

Klunk has argued her bill would bring transparency and standards to the funds’ pro bono efforts, but criminal justice advocates and those who run the funds say it would shut them down.

Bail funds help the poor get out of jail. Advocates say a Pa. House bill could shut them down

It passed the GOP-controlled House this week 111-88 along near-party lines. Two Democrats voted for it; two Republicans voted against it. 

The Wolf administration’s opposition to the bill in its current form, however, means that it has a slim chance of becoming law.

“​Bills like these do nothing to address criminal justice reform, which is a priority for the governor,” Rementer said in an email to the Capital-Star. 

She added that Wolf, a Democrat, “believes that ​as part of addressing criminal justice reform we must work towards a fairer bail system, especially for people in poverty, across Pennsylvania and the country.”

Instead, Wolf supports reforming the state’s bail system by standardizing how judges review a defendant’s ability to pay and expanding the use of community service or educational opportunities as an alternative to cash bail, Rementer noted.

Wolf’s statement of opposition comes as the bill moves to the Republican-controlled state Senate, where Democrats were already mobilizing against it.

Writing on Twitter earlier on Wednesday, state Sen. Sharif Street, D-Philadelphia, called for Wolf to veto the bill if it reached his desk. 

“A bill to target the few groups…that look out for the most vulnerable is about keeping poor people in jail,” Street said. “I’ll fight it in the Senate and push for a veto.”

Street also is seeking support for legislation to end cash bail in Pennsylvania entirely.

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Stephen Caruso
Stephen Caruso

Stephen Caruso is a former senior reporter with Pennsylvania Capital-Star. Before working with the Capital-Star he covered Pennsylvania state government for The PLS Reporter.