JACKSON — A bill that would increase state regulation of bail bond companies is now in Gov. Phil Bryant’s hands.
Senate Bill 2664 would require bail bond agents to get licensed by the Mississippi Department of Insurance. The bill would also establish a registry of licensed bail bondsmen and a database to record and keep track of bond payments. Each bail bond agent would be required to enter information about each bond they write, and to update it monthly or face a $1,000 fine.
The Mississippi Senate sent the bill to Bryant for final approval or veto Tuesday.
A person arrested and charged with a crime can stay in jail until the case ends or pay the cash bail to leave, then return on the scheduled court date. Bail bond agents financially back their bonds and guarantee their court appearance.
But Mississippi doesn’t have strong enough laws in place to regulate the industry or enforce its rules, State Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney said. He said the bill would give authorities and bondsmen the tools to prevent malpractice and make sure everyone is operating ethically.
The requirement that bail bond agents take 40 hours of pre-licensing classes will ensure they are educated and aware of the rules regulating the industry, Chaney said. People who’ve been convicted of a crime or work in law enforcement, for example, can’t be bail bond agents.
“Our goal is to clean up the industry,” he said.
State and federal officials are investigating allegations of counterfeit bonds and agents extorting clients who could not afford to pay for their bail, he said.
Bondsmen who failed to pay courts when they couldn’t guarantee their clients showed up to their court dates owe a total of $1.3 million or more to courts across the state, Chaney said. The database would allow officials to keep track of bonds, the amount paid, when they were financed and what kind of security or collateral is required, he said.
The registry would allow judicial and law enforcement officials to verify not only that bondsmen hold valid licenses but also what type of bonds they’re allowed to issue.
Chaney also said bond agents could enter into agreements to financially back an unlimited amount of bail bonds with only a minimum security deposit of $30,000.
The bill would require bondsmen increase their security relative to the amount of bonds they write, he said.
Chaney said he sees no reason for Bryant not to sign the bill.
“There’s nothing bad on the bill,” he said. “There are no taxes or fees. This just brings some accountability and transparency.”
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