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Lawmakers adopt new rules for The Bail Project: Bill goes to the governor's desk

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Posted at 5:28 PM, Mar 09, 2022

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana lawmakers on Tuesday approved a bill that sets new limits on The Bail Project and other charities that pay bail for poor people who face criminal charges.

The Bail Project bill was among the last pieces of legislation to win approval before the 2022 Legislative Session ended late Tuesday.

Among the changes under the bill, charitable bail organizations will have to register with the Indiana Department of Insurance and can only assist people charged with misdemeanors and non-violent felonies as long as the accused has never been previously convicted of a violent felony.

"I'm pleased," Sen Aaron Freeman, R-Indianapolis, said. "I mean, with any piece of legislation, you don't get everything you want when you're one of the 150 people. ... It came down to the end because there were a lot of negotiations going on."

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Sen. Aaron Freeman

Freeman authored the Senate's version of the bill, which was folded into House Bill 1300. The measure drew intense debate in a conference committee, even after Republicans used legislative maneuvers to kick Democrats out of the negotiations on Monday. The conference committee issued 14 versions of the bill before it finally settled on the language that won approval with a 35-15 vote in the Senate and 68-27 in the House.

Freeman stressed that the bill will ban public money from going to The Bail Project and similar groups. The Bail Project received $150,000 from Indianapolis taxpayers through grants aimed at fighting crime.

"I mean, that's just that's egregious to me," Freeman said."I'm grateful that we are going to put an end to that."

Rep. Gregory W. Porter, D-Indianapolis, said the Republicans who control the process pushed the bill through even though it wasn't ready.

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Rep. Greg Porter

"I think House Bill 1300 still has a long way to go," Porter said. "I think it was a piece of proposed legislation that could have just waited another year."

Porter strongly opposed the proposed changes, arguing that the new rules mean poor people will needlessly spend time in jail. He hopes that lawmakers will make further changes to the law during the next legislative session.

The Bail Project faced heavy criticism in recent months after three people it helped get out of jail were later accused of committing violent crimes.

Nikki Sterling's son Dylan McGinnis was shot to death on the east side of Indianapolis last year. The man accused of killing McGinnis was free thanks in part to money from The Bail Project.

"I'm really pleased to hear it was passed and that the leaders took the opportunity to listen to my voice as well as other the voices of other mothers of Indiana,"
Sterling told WRTV Wednesday.

Sterling spoke at the Statehouse in support of the new rules. Lawmakers cited Sterling's son's death and the other highly publicized cases when they called for the new rules on charitable bail organizations.

"My main purpose was to prevent other families from falling victim as well," Sterling said. "I believe that taking this direction and passing this bill will will do so in Dylan's honor. He always loved helping people. I feel like this is going to save many lives down the road."

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Dylan McGinnis

Sterling and other supporters of the bill say they want non-profit groups like The Bail Project to be regulated the same way the state regulates private bond companies.

Opponents say the new rules in the bill will make it more difficult to be poor in Indiana.

"Let's be honest about what happened here: a group of lawmakers exploited the public's legitimate concerns about public safety to target a charity and protect the interests of the bail bond industry," The Bail Project's National Director of Operations David Gaspar said in a statement emailed to WRTV.

"The end result will be more poor people sitting in jail at taxpayer expense without having been convicted of anything and not getting the services they need."

The Bail Project has bailed out almost 1,000 people since it began operating in Indianapolis in 2018. The non-profit says it "combats mass incarceration by disrupting the money bail system — one person at a time."

The Bail Project says 95% of the people it bails out make all their court dates. According to The Bail Project, about 6-in-10 of their clients need a ride to their hearings; about 71% have children or are pregnant; about 51% are unemployed.

The Bail Project said it helps reduce missed court dates by reminding clients of hearings and getting them transportation if they need it. It also refers people to social service agencies for further help with mental health services, addiction counseling, housing, job placement and other issues.

"This legislation neither solves any meaningful problems nor does it make Indianapolis any safer," said Gaspar, who lives in Indianapolis. "It is hypocritical, ineffective, doesn’t embrace real bail reform, but represents only surface-level politics and personal political ambition.”

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David Gaspar, The Bail Project’s national director.

MORE: Indianapolis gave $150K to group that bailed out man accused of killing girlfriend | Hogsett says he would support audit of city grants that gave $150k to group that bailed out man accused of killing girlfriend | FOP president demanding that local leaders close the justice system's 'revolving door' | Prosecutor files attempted murder charges against man accused of luring, stabbing IMPD officers | Indianapolis gave $150K to group that bailed out man accused of killing girlfriend | Mom wants The Bail Project reined in after her son was gunned down in Indianapolis | Senate proposal would require additional oversight for The Bail Project | New rules for The Bail Project: Fair regulation or an attack on the poor?

Contact WRTV reporter Vic Ryckaert at victor.ryckaert@wrtv.com or on Twitter: @vicryc.