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Walker vetoes bail bondsmen budget provision

Gov. Scott Walker greets supporters after he signs his first budget at Fox Valley Metal Tech in Ashwaubenon on Sunday. (AP Photo/Green Bay Press-Gazette, Corey Wilson)

A last-minute veto from Gov. Scott Walker means Wisconsin will not be returning to the days of state-regulated bail bondsmen.

Walker vetoed the state budget provision Sunday morning, before signing the budget later that day.

The proposal, which would have revived state licensing of bail bondsmen for the first time in almost 32 years, was framed in the budget as a way to create a competitive new job market, while also generating revenue for the state.

Dennis Bartlett, executive director of the Virginia-based American Bail Coalition, said the system would have supported 500 bail agents and, within two years, created upward of 1,500 jobs.

Approved bail bondsmen applicants would have had to initially pay a $1,000 “credential fee” and the same amount each year to the Department of Safety and Professional Services for license renewal, according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

“I think the fees would have more than paid for a number of full-time positions in the department to administer the program,” Bartlett said.

But judges in the state had opposed the provision.

“There is no evidence that the bail bondsmen system is an improvement over what we have in place now,” said Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Rick Sankovitz.

Sankovitz acknowledged, however, that the vetoed provision could return at some point as a separate piece of legislation.

“My sense is the governor was not opposed to the idea,” he said. “He just didn’t want it in the budget.”

Sankovitz argued that depending on how the system is implemented, it could weaken public safety and lead to fewer people showing up for court.

Under the bail bondsmen system, defendants would pay only a fraction of the bail set by the judge. Their payment would go directly to the bail bond corporation, which insures the rest with the court.

As it was proposed in the state budget, a licensed corporation or agent would have gotten 10 percent of the amount of the bond set by judges in Wisconsin.

Theoretically, Sankovitz said, judges would set bail 10 times higher than they do now to compensate for the involvement of the bail bond corporations and make sure there is adequate incentive for defendants to show up to court.

“The thing that could give me trouble sleeping at night,” he said, “is not knowing whether I got the bail amount right because the surety corporation might second guess my judgment about how much is necessary to get a person back to court.”

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