Vossa the Hutt

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Robin Vos managed to slip a measure into the 2013-2015 budget to begin to reintroduce bounty hunters and bondsmen to the state. If this sounds familiar, it’s because Vos attempted nearly identical legislation in the 2011 budget in a nearly identical fashion.

The decidedly non-budget policy measure was added during a Joint Finance Committee meeting. By not introducing it as a separate bill, the public was denied hearings and legislators were denied the ability to make an informed vote. These backroom deals continue to strip the public of their voice in the democratic process.

Then again, Vos isn’t doing this for his constituents or for Wisconsin. Lest we forget Vos is the state chair of American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) writes “model legislation” including 10 such pieces on bail bonds. ALEC writes these pro-corporate bills and then has legislators introduce them in attempts to cozy up with the very corporations who would benefit.

Even if the tactics weren’t so unsavory, the bail bondsman policy itself is a huge step backwards. Wisconsin got rid of the practice in 1979 due to exploitation. Bounty hunting and commercial bonds prey on the poor and are a corruption of justice.

Currently in Wisconsin, a judge sets bail (or, in severe cases, decides not to) and the accused pays directly. If they skip their hearing, they forfeit bail which goes into county and state coffers. If they come to trial, they get back their bail minus court costs. In a bond system, the accused pays 10% of the court-determined bail to a bondsman who takes on the liability of the remainder. That 10% acts as their fee for insuring the bail.

Even if the accused shows up for court, they do not receive their 10% back, a major burden on the poor. If the poor cannot pay this 10% bondsmen set up payment plans, ones with interest rates so high Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm says they “resemble the predatory practices of the cash loan industry” and create a cycle of debt.

Justice also changes hands from the courts to the bondsmen. Instead of a judge deciding if a person is indeed too dangerous to be out on bail, we will have a system where ability to pay dictates whether you walk freely or are kept in jail.

Bondsmen have a perverse incentive to help those with highest bail, and thus most dangerous, to jack up their commission. “Bail-bond companies have no direct interest in what happens once a person leaves jail,” adds Chisholm. Economics will trump public safety.

If the person does not show up for court, this is where bounty hunters come in. Bondsmen will hire bounty hunters to track down their clients, in exchange for a piece of their profit. Bounty hunters don’t need warrants, can extradite across state lines, and can hold people against their will in order to bring them in to court. They act completely outside of the law.

Even right-wing conservative Attorney General J.B. Holden has called on Walker to veto the bounty hunter provision, echoing the concerns of judges, clerks, and sheriffs statewide. “I’m opposed to it, always have been,” Van Hollen said voicing his concern about letting offenders out of jail more easily. “If it’s not broken, why are we passing legislation to fix it?”

Commercial bonds and bounty hunters are clearly non-budget issues. Even if they were, they are corrupt practices that Wisconsinites should be critical of. Then again, with Vos and ALEC leading the charge, it’s easy to see why corruption doesn’t bother those in charge.

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