Monday, February 15, 2016

Insurance Commish wants to get rid of some bad apples

This column was submitted by Mike Chaney.  Mr. Chaney is the Mississippi Commissioner of Insurance.  

Fortunately, most Mississippians go through life without ever having a need to be bailed out of jail.

Unfortunately, there are times when our citizens do have need of someone to post bail and I’m sure you have at least a small understanding of how that process works. Someone gets arrested and taken to jail. A bond is set in an amount of money suited to what he was arrested for. Now he has a choice. He can either remain in jail until he sees a judge and a final resolution of his case is worked out, or he can pay the cash bail and be released until his court date. Many times, however, he finds he cannot afford to pay the entire bail amount, so he goes to what we normally call a bail bondsman or bail agent. The incarcerated person pays the bail bondsman a percentage of their bail and the bondsman guarantees his appearance in court at the appropriate time and he is released “on bond.”

Let me be clear that I am not indicting the entire bail bond profession with what I say next. There are many, many bail bondsmen or agents that do their job honorably, fairly and with a sense of compassion.

However, there are bad apples in every profession and this is true of bail bondsmen as well. Lately here in Mississippi some of those bad apples have caused some major problems. In addition to outright fraud, we have had agents accused of forcing people into prostitution, human trafficking, sexual extortion, kidnapping and armed robbery.

In fact, the unscrupulous bondsmen are giving the industry a very bad reputation for corruption and our state has limited statutory authority to regulate them.

We also have a major problem with some of the bail bondsmen not paying the courts when they fail to produce their clients for court. Presently in Mississippi we have more than $1.8 million owed to our court system by bail bondsmen who simply won’t pay. I’ll touch more on this aspect later.  In the 2016 legislative session, I will be seeking legislation that will address several issues in the hopes of bringing increased regulatory authority over the bail bond industry.

First, the legislation will create an Electronic Bondsman Registry that will require all bondsmen to register with the department and allow the department to create an online registry that will allow the courts, sheriffs, municipal and state police to quickly and easily verify that a person actually holds a valid bail bondsman license in our state.

Currently a license can be checked online but the registry will bring more transparency by allowing an interested party to check not only the license, but the type of bail bonds an agent is licensed to issue.

The bill will establish a Bail Bond Database which will list every written bond issued in the state. Bondsmen will have to register every bond within a certain period of time and also will be required to provide information such as the amount of the bond, when it was satisfied, if it was financed and what type of security or collateral is required.

Now we get back to the money owed to the courts. Quite simply, in Mississippi, we have never required bail agents to carry enough collateral to cover the amount of bonds written. Currently, it is possible to write an unlimited amount of bail bonds with a security deposit of only $30,000. It is very easy for a bail bondsman to get over-extended with that small amount of security.

So in the legislation we attempt to rectify this by implementing a sliding scale for security required. Quite simply, bail bondsmen will be required to up the security and collateral based upon the amount of bonds they write, with certain modifications.

Understand that when I say the money is owed to the courts that means the courts in the counties where the failure on the defaulted bond took place. This money is owed to your county or city and it should be paid. Taxpayers should not be asked to take up the slack for someone who simply fails to pay what they legally owe.

I recognize this may not be a high priority item for many Mississippians. And quite honestly there are some people who should be in jail and not released on bond. My concern, however, is that where a court sets bail an individual should be able to engage an honest bail bondsman and not forced into prostitution, drug dealing or other crimes to pay for their bail.

While the steps I am seeking will not solve all of our problems in this area, it will be a good start. If I, as a regulator, ignore these major offenses, I am not fulfilling my duty to protect ALL the citizens of our state.

By seeking this legislation we are simply adding more accountability to the bail bond industry, something the industry should welcome under these circumstances. An honest industry does not fight accountability. They welcome it. Any attempt to clean up an industry and make sure everyone is operating legally is not government intrusion; it is government operating the way it is intended to.


I Like It... said...

Sounds reasonable to me. Can we limit the discussion here to the subject of Mr. Cheney's bill?

I would like to know, though, is there no recourse against a bondsman who fails, refuses or cannot pay his obligation to the courts? And if they don't pay something they owe to the court, can the courts not refuse to allow that bondsman further interaction with the system until, say, the passage of three months FOLLOWING his payment of the debt?

Anonymous said...

Does Cheney's agency currently have purview over the bail bond trade, or will this legislation ADD that jurisdiction to his plate? Honest question. Always a little leery of new legislation proposed by that agency whose budget will expand. Thanks

Anonymous said...

is there any way to hold the bail bondsman responsible if their customer commits a crime while out on bail? Or maybe a violent crime? Then they would think twice before putting these thugs on a payment plan so they get out immediately while grandma pays $100 a week for months or years and in the meantime these thugs keep terrorizing the city.

Anonymous said...

6:51, yes, it does.

Anonymous said...

when a defendant fails to appear, the Court calls the bond due and enters a default. the bondsman has some time to produce the body, failing which a Judgment Nisi is entered which means the bondsman has to pay the amount of the bond into the court. If they don't pay up, a Circuit Judge can suspend them from writing bonds until the Judgment Nisis are paid up. I think it varies from district to district how much this remedy is pursued.

most bondsmen are real pos. when I was a public defender years ago, we complained to the Court that these supposedly indigent defendants were managing to pay bondsmen but not criminal defense lawyers. The judges ignored us because the system ran smoother [for the judges] if the jail wasn't crowded and the defendants couldn't constantly change lawyers. Rotten system needs a big overhaul.

Anonymous said...

Three-fifty-seven and 6:51,the gentleman's name is CHANEY, not Cheney. Jesus.

Anonymous said...

6:54 no way. what a stupid thought. and I despise bailbondsmen.

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Trollfest '07 was such a success that Jackson Jambalaya will once again host Trollfest '09. Catch this great event which will leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Othor Cain and his band, The Black Power Structure headline the night while Sonjay Poontang returns for an encore performance. Former Frank Melton bodyguard Marcus Wright makes his premier appearance at Trollfest singing "I'm a Sweet Transvestite" from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Kamikaze will sing his new hit, “How I sold out to da Man.” Robbie Bell again performs: “Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Bells” and “Any friend of Ed Peters is a friend of mine”. After the show, Ms. Bell will autograph copies of her mug shot photos. In a salute to “Dancing with the Stars”, Ms. Bell and Hinds County District Attorney Robert Smith will dance the Wango Tango.

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