Team Bail

I was very nearly shanked with a plastic fork this morning as typically harmless ASC team member, Earon Jamison cut the line for the tater tot casserole and other assorted goodies for the Good Friday office pitch-in.  Fortunately for me, I’m battle tested and on high alert, particularly in this legislative season when just about anyone will launch an unwarranted and overreaching attack on the profession I love and respect.

I am just one of hundreds of bail agents and my peers at the surety level, working tirelessly to protect and defend the continued use of bail bonds as an instrumental tool to guarantee criminal offenders appear for trial.  The American Bail Coalition (ABC) under the direction of current Chair, ASC CEO Bill Carmichael and Executive Director Jeff Clayton, have partnered with state associations across the country to fight unwarranted and overreaching legislation aimed to put commercial bail out of business.

ABC is currently working with Steve Zalewski and Michelle Esquenazi at NYSBAA where their governor mentioned the need for bail reform during his State of the State address.  Then there is Andrew Marocchini, Andrew Bloom and Dan Toner with the Connecticut State Bail Association where Governor Malloy has reintroduced his Second Chance initiative which included a 10% cash bail option.  There have been favorable negotiations that would make this threatening legislation considerably less impactful on Connecticut bail agents.

Moving west, members of the ABC Legislative committee chaired by AIA CEO Brian Nairin, has been working with PBT President Glen Meeker and Legislative Chair Scott Walstad to oppose SB1338 and HB3011.  Should either of these measures become law, it would create a statewide pretrial release system that would effectively eliminate the use of bail bonds.  The author of SB1338, Senator Whitmire said, on the record, he was not concerned with how much his proposal would cost (Texas taxpayers).  PBT is asking all Texas bail agents to be at the State Capitol on Monday, April 17, where HB3011 will be heard in committee.

The other battle front is on the Pacific Coast.  ABC representatives are working with a large coalition that includes California’s two state associations, CBAA and GSBAA and several large retailers and several high profile legislative advocates.  The two measures of concern are SB10 and AB42.  California bail agents are asked to travel to their State Capitol on Tuesday, April 18, for an early morning hearing on AB42.  I’ll be present for that hearing.

The cooperation among industry competitors at both the agency and surety level has been nothing short of inspiring.  Bill Carmichael and I have been working side by side with our peers at ABC for many years now.  These folks have become more like family than competitors but competitors we remain while we fight for our bail agent partners and our respective companies to remain in business.  I have seen the same bond formed among bail agents across the country who are traditionally fierce competitors.  We’re all in this together.

The battles the commercial industry continues to face are far from over but we are seeing some success as a result of our efforts.  The legislative process is working.  We’ve seen bills amended or tabled and legislatures taking positions opposing wholesale changes to a system of bail that has been effective for generations.

With multiple coalitions demonstrating patience, perseverance and a willingness to put in the work and financial resources, we will prevail.  What we’ve learned over the past few years is, state officials like Governor Malloy of Connecticut, Senator Whitmire of Texas and Assemblyman Bonta of California are good at speaking loudly and often about their initiatives; they have the bully pulpit which allows them to impact public opinion early.  It doesn’t make their ideas right or even popular among their colleagues.  Our task is to educate legislators and get them the information needed to make an informed decision based on common sense, good fiscal policy and eventually; the fiscal reality and efficacy shortcomings of such proposals comes to light.  Ultimately, facts and informed legislating prevail.

Sometimes a squeaky hinge just needs a little oil, you don’t need to replace the entire door or tear the house down and rebuild, cost be damned.  For those concerned about non-violent, non-repeat offenders sitting in jail simply because they are unable to afford bail, there is a simple fix.  Let those who can post bail, post bail.  For anyone still in custody after 48 hours, their bail should be reviewed to see if a reduction or a release OR is warranted.  If their bail amount remains unchanged after a review, there is good reason and this group of detainees should not be counted among those pretrial detainees considered too poor to post bail.

There was a time when the bail industry had to be concerned about being shanked from behind with killer legislation. These days, they come right at us in an effort to put a shiv right in our heart.  Well, this heart has soul and they shouldn’t bring a knife to a gun fight. 

Have an enjoyable and blessed Easter.