Louisiana lawmakers are going to bat for the poor innocent...bail bondsmen?
On Thursday, Senate Bill 180 soared through the House by a vote of 85-0. Exactly one month earlier, it passed the Senate by a vote of 38-1. The legislation—lobbied for by the bail bond industry, per The Advocate—is a response to a February ruling from Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon, who found that tens of thousands of New Orleans citizens had to overpay to get out of jail. The bill was crafted to erase an estimated $6 million in over-charges that bail bondsmen levied on vulnerable people sitting in holding cells.
Donelon’s ruling was brought on by a 2017 complaint from the Southern Poverty Law Center, which found that nearly 50,000 people had been scammed by bail bondsmen over the past 14 years.
According to the Advocate, the issue originated in 2005, when the state legislature imposed a one percent licensing fee on New Orleans bail bond companies. Rather than shoulder the cost, the bondsmen passed it on to the “customers”—people forced to put up a cash bail or sit in jail for weeks or months until their case is heard—and raised their fees to 13 percent of the total bail amount, though a state law dictates that the cap is 12 percent.
S.B. 180 would axe the license fee, which most everyone agrees is a good idea. But it would also erase the debt owed to the people that were forced to overpay for their freedom, which means the scuzzy bail bondsmen would skate by without paying back the money they literally stole from these people.
Having cleared both chambers, the bill will now go to the desk of Gov. John Bel Edwards. A spokesperson for Edwards, a Democrat in name only, told the Advocate that he is “inclined” to sign the bill but will need to review the legislation’s language. The only person to vote against the bill in the entire Louisiana government was Sen. Dan Claitor, a Republican representing Baton Rouge.
Not that the bill didn’t make it clear enough, but it’s worth remembering that Louisiana is already among the worst states in the nation to be convicted of a crime. It was just six months ago, after all, that Louisiana voters passed Amendment 2 and upped the jury decision requirement for felony convictions from a 10-2 vote to unanimous.
It should go without saying that the fact that the cash bail system exists at all is a condemnation of the twisted pay-to-play American justice system. That the people profiting off of such a racist and skewed setup would be able to walk away from this debacle scot-free after grifting the most vulnerable is a disgrace.