Bail bonds provision eliminated by veto

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Several Stateline Area legislators are pleased that Gov. Scott Walker decided to veto a provision in the State Budget regarding bail bondsmen.

State Rep. Debra Kolste, D-Janesville, sent letters to the governor asking him to use his veto to remove the bail bond provision from the state budget. However, some say private bail bondsmen could reduce the number of offenders that fail to appear for their court date without tying up local law enforcement resources.

The item was added to the budget by the Joint Committee on Finance without notice or a public hearing. The budget provision would have allow those accused of crimes to post bail through commercial bondsmen and let bounty hunters track down those who don’t show up for court.

Judges, court clerks, defense lawyers and prosecutors all came out against establishing a bail bond system, which critics say would have invite bounty hunters into the state.

“Even Attorney General Van Hollen opposed the bail bond system,” Kolste said, noting that Van Hollen had written his own letter to the governor.

Rep. Janis Ringhand, D-Beloit, said she signed onto Rep. Kolste’s letter. She said the issue never came up for a hearing in the public and noted most law enforcement agencies were against it.

Bounty hunting has been banned in Wisconsin since 1979, and Ringhand said the practice was found to have contributed to bribes, graft and illegal dealing.

“They found a lot of people were taking bribes from the bail bondsmen. It almost became an illegal process. You can strong arm people,” Ringhand said.

Ringhand said the current system is working well and there’s no reason to bring forth the change now.

Ringhand noted allowing bail bondsmen could result in the courts losing money when someone doesn’t show up for court.

Rock County Sheriff Bob Spoden said the budget provision could have resulted in the state having little control over bounty hunters coming into the state. He said bounty hunters wouldn’t necessarily have any particular training and could potentially violate civil liberties.

“It would allow private entities to come into the state and operate carte blanche to be a bail bondsman. That is concerning,” he said.

Spoden said the budget is intended to provide a guideline for spending, not to promote or create legislation.

“Because it is in the budget, the Governor has the authority to do a line item veto,” Spoden said, noting the Governor did veto a similar provision before.

However, not everyone is opposed to commercial bail.

According to a report by the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute by Kate Lind, J.D. titled “Should Wisconsin Allow Commercial Bail in Pretrial Release,” statistics show that commercial bail has a 28 percent lower failure-to-appear rate than unsecured release and that defendants on pretrial release via commercial bail are less likely to commit new offenses while on release. The reintroduction of commercial bail along with pretrial assessments and services would create an option to prevent failure to appear while protecting financial and public safety interests of Wisconsin.

The report also stated that commercial bail agents are able to be more effective than the courts to prevent failure to appear because they have the time and resources and aren’t burdened by the same heavy caseload as the court.

All states but Wisconsin, Illinois, Kentucky and Oregon allow the use of commercial bonds and national trends show an increase in its prevalence, the report said.

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