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Monday, April 27, 2009

SB464, Bail Language

Bail bond language appeared in another bill last week, SB464. It is similar to the language in the HB628 and HB777, with several new language changes.

1) The Lee Clause is repealed, but this version of the bill specifically details that an SIS is not considered a conviction, is not required to be disclosed, and shall not serve as a basis for denial of licensure.

2) Requires that an agent be licensed for 4 years before becoming eligible to become a general agent or the officer of a bail bond corporation.

3) Requires general agents licensed after August 28th, to assign a $50,000 CD.

4) Requires general agents to assign a $5,000 CD for each new agent licensed after August 28th. In this bill, the language has been clarified to exclude the $5,000 CD for any agent working before or on the date the bill becomes law.

This is a Senate bill which was amended in the House Insurance Committee. The bill is currently in the Rules Committee.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Bounty Hunters are Not State Actors

The US Court of Appeals, Tenth District, recently handed down a decision regarding bounty hunters. The court was asked to rule on whether bounty hunters constitute state actors for purposes of the Fourth Amendment when they conduct a search in the course of seeking out a bail jumper. The bounty hunters apprehended a fugitive at the home of his girlfriend. During the apprehension, the bounty hunters noticed a loaded firearm, meth, and drug paraphernalia. The bounty hunters then called the police and the fugitive was additionally charged with the drugs and firearm. On appeal, the defendant claimed that the search of his girlfriend’s home was not a legal search, because the bounty hunters were state actors. The appeals court ruled that the search and discovery of the weapon and drugs was not a state action. The court applied a two-prong test to determine if the bounty hunters were state actors:

1) Whether the government knew of the bounty hunter’s conduct
2) Whether the party performing the search intended to assist law enforcement efforts or to further his own ends

The court ruled that “the police in no way instigated, orchestrated or encouraged the search” and only knew about the search after the fact and the bounty hunters were there on a legitimate, independent action and not to assist a law enforcement effort.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Bail Bond Language Now in HB777

The Insurance Policy Committee, chaired by Rep. Brian Yates, recently added the bail bond language contained in HB628 to an insurance bill, HB777. The bill was reported out of committee yesterday. After a bill is reported out of the committee, it makes its way to a full vote of the chamber. The bail language in the bill seeks to:

Raise the CD requirement to $50,000 for any new general agent who becomes licensed after 8/28/2009, and additionally requires that “the general bail bond agent shall execute an assignment to the state of Missouri in the amount of five thousand dollars for each bail bond agent licensed under the authority of the general bail bond agent on or after August 28, 2009." The bill also seeks to repeal the Lee Clause, which would delete the 15-year look-back on felony convictions.

The following is my opinion of the bail bond language contained in HB777, formerly known as HB628. I respect Bail Bond Agent Cooper for his tenacity in writing a bill and stepping up to offer a solution. With that said, here is what I think about the specific language:

I support the section of the bill which offers the repeal of the Lee Clause. I think it is reprehensible that a man like Lee Jackson, who served 20 years for 8 felony convictions, was eligible to get a bail bond license.

I do not understand the language in Cooper’s bill in which he amends the current language to say: "(A) bail bond agent shall hold the license for at least four years prior to owning or being an officer of a licensed general bail bond agent.” Does this mean that after possessing a bail bond agent’s for 4 years there is a provision in which you can “own” a general agent? How does one do that? I had hoped the language would have been clarified to say that one must possess an agent’s license for 4 years before becoming eligible to apply for a general agent’s license or becoming eligible to be a corporate officer of a licensed bail bond corporation.

New general agents licensed after August 28, 2009, must possess liquid assets of fifty thousand dollars, along with an executed assignment of fifty thousand dollars to the state of Missouri. The bill does not define what is considered “liquid assets of $50,000”and does not specify who determines the sufficiency of the liquid assets. The bill states that in addition to the “liquid assets,” one must execute an additional assignment of $50,000. Financial experts classify liquid assets as cash or any asset that can be converted into cash within a period of twenty days with little or no loss in value. Money in bank accounts, money market funds, and US Treasury bills are examples of liquid assets. Stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and real estate are not generally considered “liquid.” The fine print could certainly be interpreted to mean a general agent must possess $100,000 in cash-type assets in addition to any fixed assets the general agent may pledge to the local court.

The $5,000 per agent provision seems ambiguous to me. The provision says: “(T)he general bail bond agent shall execute an assignment to the state of Missouri in the amount of five thousand dollars for each bail bond agent licensed under the authority of the general bail bond agent on or after August 28, 2009.” Although I have been told that the intent of this provision is that any general agent, who signs a new agent after August 28th, will have to deposit $5,000, the provision could be interpreted to mean that all general agents in the state could be required to deposit $5,000 for each agent licensed on the date the bill becomes law.

Without careful crafting of new law, vague language can lead to unintended consequences. I hope those responsible for spearheading this bill will recognize that results are what you expect, and consequences are what you get.

Consultant Says Bondsmen are Parasites

The Springfield News-Leader recently published a follow-up report on the county’s backlog of outstanding warrants and the proposed termination of the book-and-release program. As previously discussed, Greene County has a backlog of 19,000 outstanding warrants. Several proposals have been suggested to address this problem. The book-and-release policy, enacted in 2005, allows some suspects to be booked and then released pending application of warrants. Critics of the program say that outstanding warrants have skyrocketed and criminals are released before the ink can dry on their arrest reports.

Greene County retained a consultant from California, Alan Kalmanoff, to review the county’s judicial system. While Judge Conklin suggested the suspension of the book-and-release policy which allows low-level offenders to leave the jail after they are booked without posting bonds, Kalmanoff does not think restoring these bonds in Greene County is the answer to the problem. He described bondsmen as "a parasite on the county's criminal justice system. They get nobody to come to court that wouldn't come anyway, and they catch virtually nobody that doesn't come to court."

Bondsman Rick Arnall was interviewed by the reporter and said that he disagreed with Kalmanoff’s assessment and said, "It's all about accountability. If you've got this person out on bond, our people are gonna be there.” He also added that when the defendant does not show up, bondsmen do go find them and return them to the court’s jurisdiction.

In a previous article, Judge Conklin said that bondsmen provide a needed accountability -- ensuring the majority of their customers meet court dates and don't abscond --that outweighs other concerns. "The bond system is not perfect," he said...."But they provide a service to the community at no cost for taxpayers."

Previous Post
Greene Co. Bond Policy Reconsidered

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Hearing Held on HB628

A hearing was held yesterday on HB628. Two people testified on the bill, Bart Cooper speaking in favor and Marilyn Turner speaking in opposition.

The bill seeks to raise the CD requirement to $50,000 for any new general agent who becomes licensed after 8/28/2009 and requires a $5,000 CD assignment by the general agent for each new agent licensing under his/her authority after 8/28/2009. The bill also seeks to repeal the Lee Clause, which would delete the 15-year look-back on felony convictions. See the full bill text here. (New language is in bold print, while proposed deletions are bracketed.)

If you would like to comment on any provision of HB628, it is now in the Professional Registration Committee. The committee will hold executive session on the bill at a later meeting. The committee could pass the bill as it is currently worded, amend the bill, or take no action on the bill. For a quick refresher, here is a flowchart on how a bill becomes a law.