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Response to May 26th Opinion Editorial regarding House Bill 62

An Opinion Editorial by Commissioner Troy Downing

In response to John Looney’s May 26 Opinion Editorial regarding House Bill 62:

The CSI appreciates all the collaboration and input we received from industry, law enforcement, and stakeholders when drafting House Bill 62.

The intent of HB62 was to put reasonable sideboards on fugitive recovery agents − often called “bounty hunters.” The input we received from industry was helpful and contributed to multiple amendments as we collaboratively distilled this bill into solid public policy that is clearly in the public interest. We accomplished this without causing any unnecessary hurdles for industry by leaving the existing surety bond producer side of their business intact.

We appreciate Mr. Looney of the Montana Bail Agents Association for writing to our office stating that the industry would support our bill if we added a mandatory 10% minimum premium and a requirement that the premium be paid in full prior to posting bail.

The mandatory 10% premium was our only meaningful disagreement. We made it clear to Mr. Looney our bill was solely addressing the fugitive recovery side of the business and we did not want to muddy the water with a guaranteed minimum premium.

A guaranteed minimum premium with a prohibition on financing it would have been an outlier from virtually every other line of business we regulate.

During the legislative process, claims were made that the mandatory 10% premium was once the law of the land.  However, we can find no historical reference of that being true, nor has Legislative Services nor Mr. Looney.

We were also concerned that this mandate was contrary to a free market and may contribute to overcrowding in prisons if those seeking bail did not have the means to produce the full 10% premium upfront and prior to release.

Keeping our bill clean and direct was important. We were flattered when Representative Gunderson, with support from John Looney and the Montana Bail Agents Association, duplicated our bill with the only substantive change being the guaranteed minimum premium and a prohibition on financing it.

We also appreciate John Looney and Representative Gunderson’s wife, Cherie, who came into our office and went line-by-line through our adopted administrative rules regarding bail bond regulations. We appreciate the fact that they both put in the time to read through these rules with us and agreed they are appropriate for the industry.

This open-door policy, and stakeholder involvement is how good policy is made. We appreciate the substantive contributions to this process from all stakeholders, industry, law enforcement, and judiciary.

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