January 07, 2010

State report calls for overhaul of Missouri bail bond industry

Jefferson City, Mo. - A new report from the Missouri Department of Insurance recommends extensive changes in state bail bond laws, including denying licenses to felons. The Missouri legislature in 2009 passed a law ordering the department to review state regulation of the bail bond industry and make recommendations for changes.

Perhaps the biggest change in law would require the Department of Insurance, which regulates the bail bond industry, to deny a license because of a felony on a new applicant's criminal record. Current law says applicants can obtain a license if the felony is at least 15 years old.

"The committee that reviewed Missouri law felt strongly that there is no place for felons in the bail bond industry," said John M. Huff, director of the Missouri Department of Insurance, Financial Institutions and Professional Registration (DIFP). "This and other recommendations will help to ensure the integrity of bail bond agents and bring a new level of professionalism to this important industry."

To review state laws and regulations of the industry, Huff in October appointed a 15-member committee made up of members of the bail bond industry, law enforcement, the Missouri court system and legislators.

 The committee report makes 15 recommendations, including:

  • Denying new licenses to felons  
  • For the first time, giving the Department of Insurance financial oversight of bail bond agents obligated to pay bonds to Missouri courts  
  • Increased fines and stronger penalties for agents who violate Missouri law  
  • Requiring licensed agents to pay all state income taxes 

The department sent surveys to all licensed bail bond agents, general bail bond agents and surety recovery agents in Missouri, as well as all state circuit and associate circuit judges. In all, more than 300 surveys were completed and returned for consideration by the committee.

The committee held public hearings in Chesterfield, Lee's Summit, Springfield and Jefferson City. Members of the public, the bail bond industry and the court system testified at the hearings. After the public hearings, the all-volunteer members of the committee met three times in Jefferson City to discuss proposals for new legislation and prepare its final report.

"I want to thank the 15 members of this committee for contributing their expertise, time and talents to this important study," said Huff. "They brought decades of experience as bail bond agents, judges and other court officials, and took countless hours away from their full-time work to serve our state."

The report was produced in accordance with House Bill 577, passed by the legislature and signed by Gov. Jay Nixon, and was submitted to the insurance oversight committees in the Missouri Senate and House of Representatives.

The full report is available on the department's Web site.