FBAA

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.

The end of commercial bail in Florida?

Our demise will never be about the actual work that we do. Florida bail agents invariably produce our defendants in court or we pay a substantial penalty. We play a crucial role in the criminal justice system. Our profession serves the best interests of the citizens

Florida Bail Agents Association

and the courts of Florida. Our end will never be about our actual merits. We do our job well and always have.

Instead, it will be about our apathy, oversized egos, and purposeful ignorance.  We’ve been told time and time again to get political or get out of bail. We are not listening.

Many good men and woman who were recently employed in bail in New Jersey are unemployed today. The citizens of New Jersey are worse for it. California bail agents are on the brink of likewise being eliminated by lawmakers. Our profession is being threatened in jurisdictions across the country. It is monumentally naïve to assume that Florida is exempt.

There exists among far too many of us a profound misunderstanding about the nature of our national and state associations. The Professional Bail Agents of the United States (PBUS) and the Florida Bail Agents Association (FBAA) are not “them.” They are “us.”  They will not rescue us. Only we will rescue us.

Sadly, most of us in this profession are not paid members of the PBUS or FBAA. We do not donate our time, experience, money and resources in order to protect and preserve our very own livelihood. Yet we are quick to criticize “them” for not acting or for taking the wrong action. There is no “them,” only us.

Professional Bail Agents of the United States

The current presidents of the PBUS and the FBAA are first and foremost bail agents. They are “us.” They have each spent a tremendous amount of their own time, money and effort to protect private, secured bail. They are serving “us”. What are we doing to serve ourselves?

The surety companies will not save us. “They” will not save us. The only one who can save us is us.

We can continue with our public squabbling, oversized egos, divisiveness and willful ignorance while we wait for the end. Or, working together we can accomplish great things.

I hope to see you next week in Orlando at the Renaissance Orlando at Sea World. The PBUS summer conference is July 16-19th. The FBAA summer Town Hall meeting is on the afternoon of Monday, July 17th. You can register on site for PBUS. Florida bail agents can attend the FBAA town hall meeting at no cost.  The PBUS is also offering one-day passes for Monday and Tuesday.

We’ll be sharing good news about recently passed legislation in Florida and the continuing failures of New Jersey’s disastrous bail reform. We have classes on new and improved tazers, a new bounty hunting certification program, updates on national developments and much, much more.

Join us. Participate in saving us. We’re worth 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?

 

Having your cake and eating it, too.

The literal meaning of this shopworn expression is that you cannot both retain your cake and yet still eat it, too. If you eat the cake, it’s gone. You cannot have two incompatible things. The meaning of “having your cake and eating it, too” is similar to saying, “you can’t have it both ways.”

Yet more and more often lately, that’s precisely what the state seeks in bail bond forfeiture matters. The purpose of a bail bond posted by a surety bail agent is to have the defendant appear as required in court. If the defendant becomes a fugitive and fails to appear, the bail agent must locate, apprehend and surrender the fugitive defendant back to the jurisdiction. Failing that, the bail agent must pay a substantial penalty to the state — the full penal amount of the bond forfeiture. So the bail agent either produces the body in court, or pays the penalty for failing to do so. It sounds simple, correct?

The state wants to eat your cake, and have it, too.

The state wants to eat your cake, and have it, too.

But what happens when the state doesn’t want the body? Common sense would tell you that if the state doesn’t want the fugitive, then the bail agent should not have to pay a penalty for failing to deliver. More and more often though, this is precisely what is happening. The state determines that it doesn’t want the fugitive yet still pursues the collection of the penalty from the bail agent. The state wants two incompatible things. Actually, they want one thing: revenue. But revenue to the state has never been the purpose of a bail bond. The purpose of the bail bond is to ensure the appearance in court of the accused.

Laws governing bail vary greatly from state to state. In some jurisdictions a bail agent is prohibited from lawfully apprehending his or her fugitive. For example, if I write a bail bond returnable to Miami-Dade County, Florida and the accused flees to Kentucky, it is illegal for me to enter Kentucky and apprehend him. The only lawful way for me to fulfill my obligation in this case would be to have Kentucky law enforcement take the fugitive into their custody on the Florida warrant and to extradite the fugitive back to the jurisdiction of Miami-Dade County. I would then be liable to the state for the costs incurred by them in transporting my bond principal back to Miami-Dade, Florida.

All-too-often, though, in cases such as this, the state refuses to seek nationwide extradition of the defendant — even though the bail agent is on the hook for the costs of transportation. The warrant will specify that it is for Florida only or otherwise geographically limited. The reality is that the state often in actuality does not want to prosecute or deal with the defendant, but they do want the proceeds of the bond forfeiture. They want to eat your cake.

To help remedy this situation in Florida, the Florida Bail Agents Association is seeking to pass HB 731. The complete text of the proposed legislation is here. The pertinent language in the proposed bill reads as follows:

(d) A determination that the state is unwilling to seek nationwide extradition of the fugitive defendant within 10 days after a request by the surety to do so, and contingent upon the surety agent’s consent to pay all transportation costs incurred by an official in returning the defendant to the jurisdiction of the court, up to the penal amount of the bond.

If you are a Florida bail agent you should join the Florida Bail Agents Association and support these efforts. Don’t sit on the sidelines while the state tries to change your bond into a revenue stream. Don’t allow the state to eat your cake for breakfast.