PROTECTING THE FUTURE OF THE BAIL INDUSTRY
By Brad A. Greenberg
There is an old saying that goes, whether you are on your way to heaven or hell you have to pass through Atlanta.
Atlanta, Georgia, the Southeast’s major economic hub, was a logical location for the recent Southeast Region Agents Conference. It’s a short flight from the five states represented at the conference and a reasonable drive for those who didn’t want to fly. Atlanta has a booming population and is home to an increasingly important business community of Coca-Cola and CNN. It also offered a focused work environment and an entertaining night scene for agents wanting to double-dip during their stay. But the AIA executives’ decision to choose Atlanta went further than comfort and convenience. It was a strategic public relations move.
Georgia is not a bail-friendly state. It’s an old-fashioned place – like the Carolinas and Virginia, Missouri, Mississippi and Alabama – where sheriffs are wary of out-of-town bonding sureties and more secure in their decades-old practice of dealing face-to-face with local property bondsmen.
“The local sheriff has been made to feel that in terms of control and financial security, he and his community are safer if he can deal personally with someone who is part of his community, and whom he can hold accountable. That is understandable, and it places the burden on the bail-bonding industry to educate local sheriffs and legislators that they have unintentionally been misinformed”, said Jerry Watson, Chief Legal Counsel for AIA. “The sheriff didn’t know he was being told about the “danger” of an insurance underwriter posting bail in their county, he doesn’t know the danger exists at all.”
“Georgia, which is growing like crazy, is a very pro-business state. It seeks entry of new business interests and already has included bail bonding. So it’s a state that the insurance bonding industry should start paying attention to,” Watson added. “And the job we have to do, is to convince the local authorities that we have integrity and are financially trustworthy. As a first step toward mounting a campaign like that, we wanted to show we cared enough to go there.”
AIA, which has been underwriting bail since 1904, let Georgia authorities know they were coming to town by inviting each sheriff to the conference and by informing legislative offices. Those were important gestures because Georgia almost became a state effectively off-limits to bail sureties during this past legislative session.
A bill supported by the State Association of Sheriffs and Georgia property bondsmen was introduced in the state House of Representatives that would have allowed each sheriff – and there are more than 150 – to arbitrarily set a security deposit that each bail insurance company would have to fund before doing business in that county. That would have essentially locked AIA out of a growing market and set a dangerous precedent that could have had a domino effect across other states.
But Watson phoned a friend in the House of Representatives and explained how harmful the bill would be to bail sureties. The bill died.
“AIA is legislatively very active toward protecting the future of this industry.” Watson said. “Of course, we want to see this industry flourish and prosper. The truth of the matter is that the people who know about this industry and know the alternatives – such as own-recognizance release, which has a higher failure-to-appear rate than insurance-bonded suspects – should want this industry to flourish and prosper.”