UPDATE: Wis. Dems ask gov to veto bail bondsmen

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UPDATED Tuesday, June 25, 2013 --- 1:18 p.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Wisconsin Democrats are pressing Republican Gov. Scott Walker to erase language in the state budget that would allow bounty hunters to operate in the state.

Republicans on the Legislature's finance committee inserted a provision into the budget this month that would allow judges in Dane, Kenosha, Milwaukee, Racine and Waukesha counties to let defendants hire bail bond agencies. The program would expand statewide after five years.

Assembly and Senate Democrats sent Walker a letter Tuesday urging him to use his partial veto power to wipe out the provision before he signs the budget into law. They argue bail bondsmen target the poor and police and judges oppose the language.

Walker vetoed a similar plan in the 2011 budget. His spokesman said only that Walker is evaluating the current budget.

Copyright 2013: Associated Press

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UPDATED Monday, June 24, 2013 --- 2:36 p.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen says he doesn't support a plan his fellow Republicans tacked onto the state budget that would allow bounty hunters to go after bail jumpers.

Republicans on the Legislature's finance committee added language to Gov. Scott Walker's executive budget during a late-night session earlier this month that would allow judges in Dane, Kenosha, Milwaukee, Racine and Waukesha to let defendants hire bail bond agencies. The agencies could send bounty hunters after them if they don't show up in court.

The system would expand statewide in five years.

Van Hollen told The Associated Press on Monday he has been opposed to bail bondsmen for some time. He says no one has explained why the current court system needs to be changed.

Copyright 2013: Associated Press

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Updated Tuesday, June 11, 2013 -- 10:30 p.m.

Currently, Wisconsin's pretrial system is managed by the courts. If someone is charged with a crime, a judge can require the accused to post a cash bail. That amount goes to court. If the person shows up at his or her next hearing, the money will be reimbursed, minus any court fee, outstanding fines and restitution to victims.

Under the commercial bond system, which would use bail bondsmen, a defendant only pays 10 percent of the bail, but it goes all to the bail bond company. That money will never be reimbursed, even if the person shows up to court and is found innocent.

"There are lots of ways in which this is a bad idea," said Dane Co. Chief Judge William Foust.

Judge Foust is against the practice because he says it takes money out of the hands of victims. The money from those posted bonds in the present system goes into a fund that has generated around $13 million for victims and other costs.

"If you go the route of the bail bondsmen, victims won't be getting that restitution money from bond that has been posted," he said.

Judge Foust says defendants will still be obligated to pay restitution if they are found guilty, but that it's more difficult to collect that money once the person has been incarcerated.

"It's a lot easier to get the money when the cash has already been posted then to try to collect it from somebody after, when they don't have tremendous cash flow," he said.

But the executive director of the American Bail Coalition, a major lobbying force in this discussion in Wisconsin, says it's a win-win situation. Defendants will no longer have to come up with the full bond amount--often thousands of dollars--and in the long run, he says the state will benefit.

"You'll have employees in Wis. on site doing the bail agent thing," Dennis Bartlett said. "Those will be local residents. They will be making money, which they will spend locally. And you will have premium taxes because it's an insurance product. Every premium on every bond, they will pay a certain tax on that premium. So that revenue will come into the state."

In addition to that money, under the commercial bond system, if a client skips his or her next hearing, the bail bond agent is forced to pay the full bond amount, unless the person can be tracked down.

Judge Foust says that brings up further concerns about bounty hunting, and what kind of power bounty hunters could have when they try to apprehend people.

"There are too many unknowns," Judge Foust said.

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Posted Wednesday, June 5, 2013 --- 10:15 a.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- The Legislature's budget committee has approved creating a private, commercial bail bond system in five counties in Wisconsin before it would expand statewide after five years.

The provision would initially allow private bail bonds in Dane, Kenosha, Milwaukee, Racine and Waukesha counties. Bail bond agents would have to pay the state a $1,000 licensure fee. Recovery agents would have to be licensed private detectives and wouldn't be allowed to display badges.

The county clerks would have to produce reports on how bail bondsmen have operated six months before the system expands statewide.

Gov. Scott Walker vetoed a bail bond system in the 2011-2013 budget. Asked whether the governor will veto this provision as well, his spokesman said only that Walker will review the budget when it reaches his desk.

Copyright 2013: Associated Press