Florida Bail Agents Association

The Florida Bail Agents Association Legislator of the Year and what the so-called “powerful bail industry lobby” actually looks like.

By any measuring stick, Dennis K. Baxley has lived a life of exemplary public service. He is currently a Republican member of the Florida Senate, representing the 12th district, which includes Sumter County and parts of Lake and Marion Counties in Central Florida. He has served his community as a member of the Belleview City Commission and later as the Mayor. Baxley was elected to the Florida House of Representatives, representing parts of Marion County. He rose to the second highest position: Speaker Pro Tem of the Florida House of Representatives. After that, Baxley was elected to the Florida Senate.

Florida Senator Dennis Baxley

Baxley was born in Ocala, earned two degrees from Florida State University and founded Hiers-Baxley Funeral Services. Senator Dennis Baxley has spent his entire adult life fighting for the strong conservative values which most of us Floridians cherish. He has a well-earned reputation for standing by his convictions and fighting for what is right. Senator Baxley’s perspective as a husband, father, and successful family business owner guides his public service.

During his tenure, Senator Baxley has worked tirelessly to develop policies that free the private sector from the burden of unnecessary government interference and allow people to get back to work to build a solid future for their families.

The first time I sat in his Tallahassee office, I looked Senator Baxley right in the eye and boldly stated that we have a lot in common. I am a liberal bondsman from Miami, and at the time was sporting a thick beard. Though he is certainly a skilled and effective politician, it’s quite possible that Baxley flinched slightly at my point-blank declaration. I pressed my case:

“We each get phone calls — sometimes in the middle of the night — from grieving, vulnerable family members who are dealing with a very distressing situation.”

“Because these consumers are in a vulnerable position, our businesses – bail for us and funeral services for you – are appropriately well regulated by the state. We need to be licensed and trained and fully compliant with numerous regulations and laws.”

“We each provide a critical service.”

“As small family business owners we know all-too-well that the only thing worse than the telephone ringing at all hours is the telephone not ringing at all hours.”

Senator Baxley is a quick study and he got it right away. He took the time to learn what bail agents accomplish and the important role we play in the criminal justice system. Like most people who take the time to learn what we actually do for a living, he became a supporter and an ally.

Senator Baxley sponsored a bill in Florida which clarified that the purpose of a bail bond is to ensure the appearance of a defendant. This successfully nixed the practice of a few activist judges in Florida of forfeiting bail for behavior or reasons other than a failure to appear. Nothing in the bill extended the time in which bail agents have to fulfill their obligation or granted any other special benefit to Florida bail agents. It was about fairness and clarifying the role of Florida’s licensed bail agents. Thanks in large part to Senator Baxley’s efforts, the bill passed.

Senator Baxley’s testimony in support of the bill before the Judiciary Committee included the following:

“You know I kinda wondered why I did this bill until I got to looking at a situation where I read a story where a defendant didn’t show up. The bail bondsman of course was liable for it. But then the defendant died . . .

And still didn’t show up. And they had to pay up because he didn’t show up. Well, there was something needed fixing here.”

Senator Baxley fixed it.

For his efforts on our behalf, Senator Baxley was awarded the Florida Bail Agents Association Legislator of the Year and he was given a small plaque for his office wall.

This is what bail industry lobbying actually looks like. It is hard working small business owners educating policy makers and building relationships. Senator Baxley is a fan of private bail because he took the time and effort to learn that private bail works. The 2,500 or so licensed bail agents of Florida serve the public and the courts of Florida. Once educated, people understand that private accountable bail is a fantastic deal for taxpayers, courts, and, yes, even accused defendants.

It’s ironic that billionaires like Laura and John Arnold and astronomically well funded outfits like the Katherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Public Welfare Foundation repeat the same false narrative over and over that the “powerful bail industry” lobbies politicians. No one does more paid lobbying and less actual constructive work than the “#endmoneybail” charlatans pushing for so-called bail reform.

The reality is that bail is and always has been a “mom and pop” business. While many of the 18,000 or so licensed bail agents across the country are backed by insurance companies, the role these companies play in the bail process is relatively small. Typically, the insurance companies provide a financial guarantee to the state that the bail agent will fulfill his or her obligation – which is to produce the defendant in court or pay a substantial penalty.

We are very grateful that friends and fellow family business owners like Senator Dennis Baxley get it.

Our own money makes us accountable. Taxpayer dollars and government employees? Not so much.

Florida bail agents are required to successfully complete fourteen hours of continuing education every two years. CE courses are offered across the state of Florida by the Florida Bail Agents Association (“FBAA”). Florida bail agents have other choices besides the state association for their CE courses since there are other approved providers, including some insurance companies, who offer courses.  But when agents pay tuition to the FBAA 100% of the money goes to the association. Most of the money raised through the FBAA CE courses is used to pay the lobbyist.

Who is accountable?

Government run pretrial release: “We hope defendants appear in court but if they don’t no one is actually responsible.”

So when you take a CE course through the FBAA you not only meet the legal requirement to keep your license but also are helping to fund the association that works for the betterment of all Florida bail agents.  This is the reason why I set aside one day each month to teach CE courses for the FBAA. All of the instructors of FBAA CE courses are volunteers.

Anyhow, I recently received a telephone call from a Miami bail agent who took one of the CE courses which I had taught. He was complaining that his $100 tuition check to the FBAA hadn’t been cashed even though it had been almost a week since the course took place.  I reminded him that I was a volunteer and assured him that all of the tuition checks for the course were forwarded by me to the FBAA office on the day after the class via UPS delivery. I followed up and confirmed that his check was at the FBAA office and slated for deposit the following day.  I had a passing thought that perhaps this gentleman was being obsessively frugal or controlling. Later that day, however, I checked my personal bank account balances on line. When I couldn’t identify a $9.49 charge from Amazon, I immediately called my wife to investigate the charge. (She confirmed she had purchased something.)

The lesson I took from these too ordinary small occurrences is that we pay careful attention to our own money. Our own money matters to us. Whether the government values our money is a different matter entirely.

At the same times as these two minor transactions occurred – my $9 purchase and the bail agent’s $100 check — a news story broke that $3.6 million dollars was missing from one of Miami Beach’s bank accounts. Evidently over an unspecified period of time — likely many months — someone illegally accessed bank information online and illegally transferred money from this City of Miami Bank account. They did this over and over again until they had stolen about $3.6 million of taxpayer money from the City.

With no evidence whatsoever, the Miami Beach City Manager was quick to assert his astounding speculation that he doesn’t believe that city employees are to blame for stealing the money. At the same time, two managers in the city finance department who should have noticed all of the illegal transfers were gracious enough to resign.  The city’s chief financial officer offered to demote herself to deputy finance director. Here, however, is the quote from the City Manager that left me dumbfounded:

“I don’t think that we could have prevented this, but we should have caught it sooner. This was not just one month of activity. We probably should have caught it earlier, and I’m trying to figure out if we did something wrong and where that happened.”

If we did something wrong? A Miami bail agent has $100 too much in his checking account and it prompts him to make a call and investigate. The City loses $3.6 million in dozens of illegal bank transfers over many months and the top city official says with a straight face that it couldn’t have been prevented. We care about money. Does the government care about our money?

This is food for thought as our opponents renew their ill advised cries to eliminate what they call “money bail.” The alternative to private secured accountable bail is invariably a government funded, government run program.  One of the reasons why private secured bail works so well is because we are financially accountable for the defendant’s appearance in court. And we all value money. Money incentivizes us. Money also matters to the friends and family of the accused who agree to share in the financial accountability for having the defendant appear in court.

Where does the buck stop?