Thursday, July 16, 2015

Pennsylvania Lawmakers Back Commercial Bail?

I should call this “Bail Agents: Insurance Lobbyists Are Not Your Friends, Part II,” as it illustrates exactly what I wrote about last time.

In a recent blog, a bail insurance company lobbyist wrote that by enacting SB 397, Pennsylvania lawmakers somehow showed support for commercial bail. I don’t think so, and if you read it, I don’t think that you’ll think so either. In fact, everything I read indicates that Pennsylvania was trying to add regulations to the bail bond industry “by requiring that all bail bondsmen play by the same rules,” according to the sponsor, Rep. Bryan Cutler. Clamping down on an industry through additional regulations isn’t really “backing” it.  

So what did the legislation do, and why do the insurance companies like it so much? Well, the biggest thing it did was to require all bail agents to have insurance company backing – or, as the lobbyist put it, “to be appointed by an approved surety insurer.” God forbid there should be any bail agents in Pennsylvania without insurance company backing, and so this bill fixed that. The whole thing is a pretty good deal for the insurance companies, and it might be a good deal for bail agents and the people of Pennsylvania except for one thing: having an insurance company back a bail bond doesn’t do anything for anyone because the insurance companies never pay any losses.

They even admit to this. In fact, the bail insurance companies are so confident about their place in the system that one lobbyist recently bragged to a reporter for Mother Jones that the lobbyist’s company had been in business for 107 years and never once – NEVER ONCE – paid a single forfeiture. So bail agents are required to have insurance company backing, but is there really any backing if they never pay? It’s free money for the insurance companies, which is why they’re fighting so hard to keep it rolling in. 

So, then, if insurance companies don’t pay, who does? Well, defendants, defendants’ families, and bail agents pay, that’s who. If you’re a bail agent, you already know that, just like you know about buildup funds. In the surety bail system we have today, bail agents do everything, they’re on the hook, and they’re expected to drop bags of money on the steps of the insurance companies or face the consequences. If it looks a bit like the Godfather Part IV, it is. Deep down, bail agents know that they don’t need any help from insurance companies, no matter what those companies tell the state legislatures.   

So don’t let these lobbyists tell you that SB 397 did anything good for bail agents, and for goodness sake, don’t let them tell you that the whole thing showed that Pennsylvania “backs” commercial bail. This is the twisted world of the bail insurance companies, which help lawmakers put restrictions on bail agents designed to make the insurance companies money, and then try to sell it to bail agents at the various conventions. Your honor, I refer to the case of lipstick versus pig.

Bail agents, this is your one and only chance. If you really want to have a place in the world of American pretrial release and detention – if you truly believe in private pretrial partnerships with public criminal justice systems – don’t listen to the insurance companies. The future of American pretrial release and detention, public or private, does not have a place for bail insurance companies. They know this, and so they’re going to fight to keep everything the same until the end. But just remember, they're not your friends, and their fight is only going to take you down.