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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Robin Vos Sneaks 'Dog the Bounty Hunter' Into the State Budget

For-profit bail bondsmen could become legal in Wisconsin

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Who let “Dog the Bounty Hunter” loose in the streets of Wisconsin?

State Rep. Robin Vos (R-Caledonia) did last Friday evening, when the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) took up the final items in the massive biennial state budget.

Although Republicans like Vos had pledged to keep non-fiscal policy items out of the state budget, Vos broke his own rule and slipped a seemingly benign item into the state budget that would allow commercial bail bondsmen like reality-TV star Dog the Bounty Hunter to obtain licenses from the state Department of Regulation and Licensing, to the tune of $1,000 per license.

Bail bondsmen were outlawed in Wisconsin in 1979 because it was a corrupting force in the state judicial system.

Vos, the JFC co-chair, claimed that Wisconsin courts waste money when a defendant doesn't show up in the courtroom, and that commercial bail bondsmen would help to ensure that defendants show up in court.

“It's a huge cost to local governments,” Vos told the members of the JFC.

But Vos provided no statistics on bail jumping in the state, and his item didn't include a fiscal note indicating how much money the state or local governments would save—or spend—as a result of his proposal.

No Republicans spoke in defense of the proposal.

But Democrats criticized Vos' bounty-hunter plan and questioned why a policy item was being slipped into the state budget.

State Rep. Jennifer Shilling (D-La Crosse) said that if the intent was to create jobs, Vos' item should have been included in Gov. Scott Walker's special session devoted to job creation.

“This is silly season,” Shilling said.

State Rep. Tamara Grigsby (D-Milwaukee) said she was concerned about giving private entities the right to arrest people at the same time Republicans were poised to legalize concealed carry.

She said Vos did not supply enough information about the item to allow her to make an informed decision about his proposal.

State Rep. Robert Jauch (D-Poplar) blasted Vos, saying that the JFC co-chair had pledged in an interview to keep policy items out of the budget. Policy items should be introduced in the state Legislature so that public hearings can be held and legislators can be fully informed of the impact of their vote, Jauch said.

“We're running the institution into the ground,” Jauch said.

Vos' item passed 10-6 with state Sen. Glenn Grothman (R-West Bend) and Rep. Joe Leibham (R-Sheboygan) voting against it, along with the four Democrats on the committee.

Taylor: 'So Much Nonsense'

But perhaps the most pointed criticism of Vos' proposal came from state Sen. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee), the former chair of the Senate's judiciary and corrections committee. Taylor called Vos “the master twister” for his ability to spin “facts” in his favor.

“This is so much nonsense,” Taylor said, saying that Vos provided no fiscal note and that there was “no epidemic” of bail jumping in Wisconsin.

Taylor noted that the commercial bail bondsmen proposal has been promoted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a free-market think tank that provides legislation to state lawmakers. ALEC brings together representatives of corporations and state lawmakers to write pro-corporate bills that often directly benefit those particular corporations, and then uses legislators who are trying to cozy up to those corporations to sneak these special bills into law.

ALEC's website lists 13 pieces of model legislation relating to bail bonds.

A member of ALEC's Private Enterprise Board is William Carmichael, of American Bail Coalition and the president and CEO of American Surety Co. and Underwriters Surety Inc.

Vos is the state chair of ALEC.

“This is a piece of legislation directly from the ALEC playbook,” Taylor said.

On Monday, Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, former Milwaukee County District Attorney E. Michael McCann and state Rep. Fred Kessler (D-Milwaukee) held a press conference to oppose Vos' proposal.

In an interview, Kessler, who helped to outlaw commercial bail bondsmen in 1979, said that the industry is a “corrupting force in the judiciary” because of its history of bribing judges and contributing to judges' campaigns so that they set high bails. That, in turn, raises the bail bondsman's profits.

Kessler pointed to examples of judges in Louisiana and California who took bribes from bail bondsmen.

“It affects the whole judicial system,” Kessler said.

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