Bipartisan bail reform package will head to gov's desk if passed by House today

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From left, UNH School of Law professor Albert "Buzz" Scherr, Strafford County Attorney Tom Velardi (Courtesy photos)

CONCORD - District 6 Sen. Jim Gray and Strafford County Attorney Tom Velardi are among those hopeful that a bi-partisan bail reform bill will be passed by the House today, the final day of the 2020 Legislative session.

The House will be voting in person from the Whittemore Center at UNH in Durham.

Gray told The Rochester Voice on Monday he expects the bill to pass.

Velardi, who was part of a committee studying ways to tighten the recent reform bill so that repeat bail offenders could be held accountable, told The Rochester Voice on Monday that "great compromises were made" to get the bill written in time to be put into law this session, adding that even the original bill's author, Albert "Buzz" Scheer, a UNH School of Law professor, was willing to make compromises.

"Defense lawyers, the ACLU, police chiefs, they all agreed something had to be done," Velardi said. "Everyone ended up giving up something and getting something. There was great collaboration."

Velardi also credited Rochester Police Chief Paul Toussaint with his input during the discussion.

The Rochester Voice delved into the problems of the original bail reform bill during its "Spotlight on Bail Reform" series last summer.

In an Aug. 28 story that showed a deep divide between Scheer's and Velardi's philosophy on bail reform, Velardi complained that bail reform suspects released on PR, or personal recognizance bail, were reoffending or not showing up for court appearances and being immediately rebailed on $0 PR bail after being picked up on another charge or bench warrant.

"Every time you are put on bail, you're given conditions," Velardi fumed at the time. "The conditions are that you not reoffend, be on good behavior and show up for hearings. And when they don't do that the person is in indirect criminal contempt."

But Velardi said judges in far too many cases simply released them again on $0 PR with the same conditions.

"What is confounding to us in law enforcement is they aren't enforcing their own bail orders," Velardi said. "Why would we do the same conditions? That's what the public is getting outraged about.

"Each time they (offenders) come in, it's a clean slate."

On Monday, however, Velardi said the "clean slate" principle is gone in the new bill that passed in the state Senate earlier this month.

"(With this bill) Judges can consider the totality of the case," Velardi added, meaning they can look at the number of times the same suspect may have violated his bail conditions before deciding whether to continue $0 PR, bail.

The bail reform legislation was first enacted in 2018 with the intent that cash would not play a role in whether a suspect in a crime is allowed to remain free pending trial or plea deal.

During the monthslong bail reform series in The Voice, it was noted in July that one Rochester man, after racking up an eye-popping six bench warrants; was picked up by police yet again and given PR bail a seventh time.

"That's what you call insanity," Velardi said. "Doing the same thing and expecting a different result."

If the House passes the bill, it will go to Gov. Sununu's desk for his signature.

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