Got a special-interest bill you’d like to steer through the General Assembly? Hitch your wagon to the small business star.
The approach secured those $3,500 income tax breaks for partners in big law firms (among others) and now it may work for ... bail bondsmen. The bond-providers, chafing at competition from county-run pretrial release programs, have rounded up legislative allies to slam the door on the programs, which operate in the Triangle and elsewhere.
The bail bondspersons’ case boils down to this: The business of providing appearance bonds to criminal defendants shouldn’t have to go up against a not-for-profit alternative. No governmental agencies need get involved. When they do, says Republican Rep. Mike Hager of Rutherfordton, “it causes small businesses to become even smaller.”
That’s a blinkered view. The justice system is, after all, a government operation, from police and judges to jails and courts. It’s more curious, actually, that private businesses have inserted themselves into the system as for-profit providers of bonds ensuring that released defendants show up for trial.
The bill they’re backing, SB 756, concerns county-operated programs that allow some indigent defendants to be released from jail before trial without posting bond. Such releases can be a good thing, provided there’s adequate screening. Jails are crowded enough.
The bill prohibits state funding for the programs and bars pretrial release services’ employees from communicating with defendants for at least 48 hours after arrest. The upshot would be more jail time for the poorest defendants, unless they secure bond. In testimony, a Guilford County judge warned of higher jail and court expenses. Greensboro’s police chief fears an increase in crime.
What’s certain is that the bill “is all about making money for the bail bonds industry,” said straight-talking Judge Marcia Morey, chief District Court judge for Durham County.
No one wants dangerous defendants on the street in advance of trial. That’s not the issue. When police and judges say pretrial release programs are effective and make their jobs easier, legislators should listen up.