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Sunday, March 7, 2010

Guest Commentary by Andy Laughlin

My Take on Our Industry

I have been in the Bail Bond business for a little over ten years now. There is no doubt that things have changed dramatically since I started. The number of bonds are down and the number of bondsmen are up. There are many in this industry that have no business writing bonds, at least not in the amount they are writing them. All of this needs to be addressed, and is currently being addressed by legislation that is in the works in Jefferson City.

When I first started, a General Agent had to qualify with each circuit he wanted his agents to write bonds in. This was good, in a way, but needed to be refined. The problem was with the variation of criteria used by each judge. No two counties were the same. Just as wildly varied as the qualification criteria, there were just as varied ways each judge handles forfeitures. If it is a county you deal with on a regular basis, you might not like it, but at least you would know what to expect. If you wrote a bond out of your normal area, you could get some very big surprises should something go wrong.

In 2004-2005, a bill was introduced to try to fix some of these problems. I don’t want to get into what exactly happened, as I have heard claims from several that were involved, and I wasn’t there. I don’t know who, for sure, is responsible for this legislation, but due to poor wording, it really caused more problems in the industry, in my opinion. In an effort to standardize the way qualifications and forfeitures are handled, among other things. Due to poor wording, as I stated before, the law was interpreted different by many different judges. Some continued to qualify bondsman the same as they always have and some interpreted to mean that anyone with a license could write all the bail they want in every circuit. This has caused chaos. Many bondsman got their General Agents license with nothing more than a ten thousand dollar CD and started hiring all of the agents they could to write for them. I know some of these guys personally and have heard it out of their mouths. Their goal is to make all the money they can, while they can, and if they get caught with a judgment they can’t pay, no problem, they will just go out of business and start again with a family member or a friend. There is no accountability. The new law was also supposed to give us 6 months to find our skips. Again, I have heard this interpreted a number of different ways and none of them gave me 6 months. All of this due to poor wording.

Last session, a bill was introduced to raise the bar from a ten thousand dollar CD to a fifty thousand dollar CD assigned to DIFP to get your General Agents license. While this was an attempt to get rid of some of the Generals that were writing on their CD only, it was going to have other consequences and was not going to solve the problem, in my opinion. Last session was the first time I had ever gone to the Capitol, either supporting or working against, any legislation. Boy did I get a lesson in politics! I have never been on such a roller coaster ride in my life. I did make some friends, both in the industry and with legislators. Thanks to several other bondsmen from around the state that didn’t like this attempt, we defeated this bill. And, there was a mandate issued by the legislation that was passed that DIFP do a study of the industry and report back what problems need to be addressed by the beginning of this session. It all worked out great, in my opinion. Now we had a legitimate chance at making some changes in our industry to make it better, eliminate some people that do not need to be here and standardize practices statewide. In my mind it was, and still is, our best, and maybe only shot, at making ourselves legitimate to the state, legislators, judges and public in this state. To show that we are professionals and to police ourselves and clean up our own mess. And, it very well could be our last chance to save our industry. (My current General Agent told me ten years ago that we would be out of business by now. I want to prove him wrong.)

I immediately wrote letters to DIFP requesting a chance to be on the committee to help with this study. I was fortunate enough to be selected to help with this process. I went in with an open mind and was very excited about the chance to make a difference in our industry. We held our first meeting in Jefferson City. At that meeting, the results of the survey that DIFP had sent out to every agent in the state to get information about what the industry was thinking as a whole, were given to us. It was also decided that we should send out surveys to every judge in the state to see what their thoughts were. Then, we had four public hearings, in Kansas City, St. Louis, Springfield and Jefferson City, to give agents from all over the state a chance to testify and give us more information on what everyone wants in our industry. After all of the surveys were in and the hearings were done, it was obvious there were several topics that needed to be addressed. We held several meetings trying to draft the best legislation we possibly could, keeping in mind that compromises had to be made to have any chance of getting it passed. We kept in mind everything we had heard from around the state, also realizing that not every issue could be addressed with one piece of legislation. It was a rocky road at times and another great learning experience. But, in my opinion, we came out with one of the best pieces of legislation that has ever been introduced, and a piece that could very well help extend our industry into the future. Do I love everything about it? No. Would I like some changes? Yes. Would I like some things added? Yes. But I do support this bill as written. There are some things that can be addressed in other sessions. There are some things that do not need to be done as statute, but can be done as regulation. I am not going to go into all the specifics. Anyone can read the language for themselves.

Another great thing about this legislation, it is a composite of what we heard over and over again, all over the state. Not everything we heard, but the major points that we heard many times. We used ideas from the surveys agents and judges filled out. We had input from bail bond agents, general agents, judges, legislators, OSCA, DIFP, Police Chiefs Association, Sheriffs Association, County Clerks and several other sources. The judges on the committee lobbied many other judges, and as a whole, most judges like the language. This is not the work of one person or group, as it has been in the past. This is a work of many facets related to our industry. After is was finished, Rita Heard-Days, a Senator that sat on the committee, introduced the bill we all worked so hard on.

I was, and am not, ignorant enough to think that the legislation will just roll through without some opposition or some things being taken off or added. But I did not think that people that were on the committee and worked as hard as I did, would be selfish and foolish enough to attack it themselves. But that is what is happening and I am very disappointed. We got an early hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee. We had several members of the committee testify in favor of the bill. There was one person that testified against. And that person was on the committee. This person did object to a few things during the meetings and voted against a few of the items. But, instead of doing like the rest of us, as I said, I didn’t like every part of it either, and supporting what the committee decided could be passed, he decided to take it upon himself and speak out against it in a public hearing. That is his right and I do not deny him that. I am, however, very disappointed. Right off the bat, we don’t show professionalism and solidarity in trying to clean up our own mess and police ourselves. One of the committee members that went through this whole process, takes it upon himself to try and kill what we have worked so hard for, just because it doesn’t serve him perfectly. But it doesn’t stop there.

Like I said earlier, last session was my first introduction into politics on Capitol Hill. And what a lesson it was. The gentleman that introduced the language last year, had hired a lobbyist. After I got into the fight against it, I was introduced to a lobbyist that worked for another person that had the same goal as I did. I ended up working with this lobbyist the rest of the session, along with many others, to get this language out. Politics are wild enough as it is, throw lobbyist’s in the mix and it gets worse. We were about half way through our meetings of the committee, and I was very excited about the prospects. I was approached by the gentleman that had the lobbyist I worked with last session to see if I would help to hire him this session, to help massage the bill and help it to pass. I agreed that would be a good idea. However, I was not ready to do so just yet. I am glad I didn’t. I have been told that a group was formed to hire this lobbyist, but to massage the bill and help it pass, is not exactly true.

Let me back up. During the meetings, we all had our objections, as I said before, and things we wanted in that did not make it in this time. One General Agent wanted to put in a piece that would make agents turn in all of their paperwork and money and the General Agent would have to sign off before the agent could go to work for another General Agent. There were arguments heard both for and against. A vote was taken and it was voted down. It didn’t stop there. This particular General Agent, called some of the committee members, asking if it could be brought up for a vote again, and if so, would they change their vote. Now, I have a problem with this. I have always been a fan of the democratic process. If you lose a vote, you don’t lobby to have it brought back up for another vote. I was disappointed with this individual. But, he didn’t stop there. I have been told by another agent that heard this directly from the lobbyist that this General Agent helped to pay his fee and they were going to introduce an amendment to our bill with this added language. Now I am severely disappointed. I had a lot of respect for this General Agent. But now, instead of working as a member of the committee, he is self serving, and I have a gut feeling he isn’t the only one, jeopardizing our bill and furthering the view that we are not professional and cleaning up our own mess as we were trying to show.

There is another lobbyist involved. The General Agent that introduced the language last session, as I said before, had hired a lobbyist. We have talked many times recently and I am convinced that his goal is to massage this bill and help get it passed as much in tact as possible. What we should all be striving for as members of the committee that wrote this language. That is exactly what he is trying to do, although, I am not particularly fond of all of the tactics he has used so far. It appears that he has made some comments to one of the judges on the committee that did not set well. It also appears that he made some comments to one of the legislators that got back to one of the committee members that also did not set well. But, other than that, he has done a good job, so far, to help the bill along. But we have a long way to go. (I keep saying bill, but should say language, as it appears the original Senate Bill will not go anywhere and we now have to hope the House Bill with the same language does.) They say politics make strange bedfellows. I find it funny that that the General Agent and lobbyist I considered my mortal enemy last session, I am now working with for a common goal.

That is my take, in a nutshell, about where this industry is, and how it got here. I am very proud and honored to have had the chance to help with what I truly believe to be the best piece of legislation that has ever been offered for the industry as a whole. Like I said, it is not the product of one man or group, but of many facets of people related to our industry. Yes, there are things I don’t particularly like, and there are things that I would like added in the future. Yes, I knew we would have some opposition. I am very disappointed it is coming from within our own committee, and have lost respect for some that are doing this. Hopefully, somehow, we can get this behind us and get this legislation through in tact, or at least as in tact as possible. I have had conversations with some others, including one of the judges on the committee, and if we don’t get this through, god help us. There is a good chance that our industry is in dire straits in this state. We will most likely never get a cross section of people like we had on this committee, to the table again. Especially if it is killed by the greed and self serving actions of people that were on the committee.

I think there is still a chance we can get this through and save our industry. But, we have a long way to go.

Andy Laughlin


  1. I have been in the bail business for 12 years as a bail agent and a general agent for over a year. I'm the director of operations for one of the bigger bail companies in MO. but I still consider myself a relative newcomer to the industry but I have two cents as well.

    I hold a general bail license as a fail safe in the event something would happen to our general agent. I do not write bail under my name for two reasons. The first is out of loyalty the second is morals. My financial staus would not cover the dollar amount of bonds I would need to write to make the kind of money I want to make. I would not have any legal problem writing this bail now or even if the current bill passes. I think the fifteen to one ratio proposed in the bill is weak.

    If our desire is to continue to have a future in the industry then we need to embrace accountability.One hundred eighty days to pay a bond is not what is needed to show accountability or responsability. I believe if a person can't be brought back in ninety days then either your not trying or the bond should't have been written in the first place, pay th piper. There should be no more than five working days to pay the bond from time of judgement entered.

    Lastly my thought on educational requirements. I believe as a whole the idea of basic and continuiing education is a very good idea. I believe that good things have come through this and I believe most of the educators I know are honorable and doing a good job. I wonder however if we are not shoting ourself in the foot in one aspect. Common sense would tell me if I am providing basic traing for new agents then I would do what I could to get as many people in the class as possible to make it worth doing. There is nothing wrong with this but I think the end result is more bail agents. Instead of having this basic trining provided by inependents why not have the Dept of insurance provide this training say twice a year and pay an instructor a set fee for service rendered. This would reduce the need to solicit new agents to fill a class. Just a thought.

    That's my two cents;
    Dennis Lamb

  2. Ben Hilton, GBA3/09/2010 4:02 PM


    Andy, it was my understanding that the committee was officially disbanded on January 06th, when I attended a Senate Committee hearing in Jefferson City on SB892, it appeared that the bonding committee was still going strong.

    I’m curious, has the D.F.I.P. extended the life of the committee, or is a two or three year committee or is it a now close knit group wanting to see their time and efforts completed.

    There is some language in the committee’s proposed bills (SB892 and HB2156) that needs addressed, I agree with 99% of it. While I don’t feel that it’s bad law, I don’t believe it addressed the needs of our vocation; but it is a start that will show the State that we can come together as a profession. Maybe it will thin out the herd a little and in the next legislative session we can address cash and 10% to the Courts Bonds.

  3. What can we do in a dry county where all bonds are 10% to the court or code bonds or cash only bonds? Someone with some experience please respond. This has taken place over a short period of time (two months)

  4. Not much you can do about cash bonds. I dont know what your calling a code bond. If this legislation passes as is, you will be able to post a 10% bond, same as a surety.

  5. Andy Laughlin5/12/2010 11:36 PM

    I have an apology to make. When chosen for this committee, I promised myself I would do the right thing and not let my personal feelings and ideas get in the way. I would stick to the info gathered by the surveys and meetings and try to work from there with my votes.

    Well, I failed on one instance. In the article I wrote above, I mentioned that one particular general agent wanted to include making general agents sign off on bonding agents before they left for another general. Now, I am firmly against this. I think there are too many general agents that would abuse this to keep bonding agents from working anywhere else with trumped up charges and do whatever it took to make them stay or get out of the business. I could name several off the top of my head, but will not get into that kind of game.

    Well, it was brought to my attention by the lobbyist named above, that the survey actually showed that the majority in the industry that turned in their surveys, wanted this included. I totally overlooked this somehow and it was unintentional on my part. I know others voted the same way I did, so I will not speak for them, but I was wrong.

    I havent named any names and will not do so. You konw who you are and so do most others. So to the general agent and to the lobbyist involved, I apologize. I understand if you dont accept my apology, but I do hope you do as I mean it sincerely. I was wrong, I shouldnt have voted agianst it to begin with, I shouldnt have fought against the ammendment and I shouldnt have included it in this article. I hope you can be man enough to accept my apology as I am man enough to admit when Im wrong and apologize to you both publicly.

    On another note, one person on the committee stood up in our very first Senate Committee Hearing and spoke out against the bill. Well, last week, it worked for him. The bill was killed in the Senate, and the Senator said that the reason was that it had opposition as one person spoke out against the bill in the Senate Committee Hearing. So, you got your wish.


Although Missouri Bondsman encourages debate on topics of interest to the bail industry, please be aware that comments are moderated. Please observe the posting rules. No comments will be printed that contain spam, profanity, or libelous comments. Please post comments in a civil, professional manner.