Lobbyists for bail agents and bounty hunters say they soon plan to introduce a Senate bill that will impose regulations on their own industry.
The statements come the day after the House Judiciary, Rules and Administration Committee declined to print a bill that would have imposed regulations suggested by the Idaho Sheriffs’ Association.
Lobbyist Jessie Taylor, who represents the American Bail Coalition, said Tuesday that a version is currently being finalized by the Legislative Services Office. He said he couldn’t provide the Post Register a copy, but could do so once Legislative Services Office has finished.
“We think we have a bill that will protect public safety,” he said.
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The bill is also being backed by Duane “Dog the Bounty Hunter” Chapman and his wife, Beth Chapman, who are represented by lobbying firm Strategies 360.
“We’re still totally committed,” Beth Chapman said in a phone interview. “… We’re trying to do something that doesn’t over-regulate everybody.”
Chapman emphasized that she and her husband are “very pro-law enforcement.”
“We both play a critical role in the criminal justice system,” she said.
There are currently no minimum qualifications, no training requirements, no criminal background checks — or really anything else in the way of limitations on bounty hunters.
Bounty hunters act under the authority of a section of Idaho Code that allows bail agents — those who post cash to get a defendant out of jail — to designate bounty hunters to apprehend someone who skips bail.
And since the 1872 Supreme Court decision Taylor v. Taintor, bounty hunters around the country have been granted broad, law enforcement-like powers, though Idaho is one of only a few states that hasn’t imposed qualifications, requirements or oversight.
Representatives of the Idaho Sheriffs’ Association said they haven’t seen the latest version of the bill and don’t know what’s in it. Neither does Patricia Holt, the mother of Philip Clay, who was killed by bounty hunters in Idaho Falls in 2015.
A main sticking point between the Sheriffs’ Association and the bail industry is whether bounty hunters should carry badges. The Sheriffs’ Association bill wouldn’t have allowed that, but Taylor said the bail industry’s bill does.
Not having a badge, Beth Chapman said, “creates a dangerous situation for bail recovery agents.”
But that’s unacceptable for sheriffs.
“We’re not wild about the idea that people who kidnap people for a living can award themselves badges,” said Michael Kane, the Sheriffs’ Association’s lobbyist. “It’s a symbol to the public that you have been certified and been hired to take care of the peace and security of the public.”
Last year, a bill that would have regulated bounty hunters died after lobbying by bounty hunters, including Duane Chapman. It had previously passed the House 57-13, and received a “do pass” recommendation from the Senate Judiciary and Rules Committee.
That bill would have required bounty hunters to wear a standardized badge specifically designed so that it could not be confused with a law enforcement badge. Bail Coalition lobbyist Taylor called it a “tin identification badge,” and said it was unacceptable.
“A lot of our agents feel that badge gives them a layer of protection,” Taylor said. “It does oftentimes give a defendant pause.”
Vaughn Killeen, executive director of the Sheriffs’ Association, said that argument is “a subtle admission that they are using the badge to suggest that they are law enforcement.”
Taylor also said it’s unfair for bounty hunters to be unable to carry a law-enforcement-style badge when security guards are allowed to carry them. Killeen said context is key.
“(Security guards are) also in security uniforms,” he said. “They’re at the mall. They’re obviously private security. But when you dress in plain clothes and start flashing badges around, that suggests something entirely different.”
One area where the two sides agree is that bounty hunters should have to wear clothing prominently displaying “Bail Enforcement Agent” when making an arrest.
“Any time you’re busting in a door, we want that clearly marked,” Taylor said.
Taylor said the bill also includes regular training requirements. The Department of Insurance would be given a regulatory role in the industry. It already regulates bail agents, but currently exercises no oversight over bounty hunters.
The Sheriffs’ Association’s bill would have required bounty hunters to notify sheriffs when they plan to make an arrest. Taylor said the industry’s bill doesn’t include that provision, though he noted it is “common practice” for bounty hunters to do so.
Under both the Sheriffs’ Association’s bill and the industry bill, at least some felons could continue to work in bail enforcement.
Killeen said unfortunately there are many active bounty hunters with violent felony convictions.
“The famous bounty hunter, Dog, he was convicted of homicide,” Killeen said.
Chapman was convicted of first-degree murder in Texas in 1976. He was not convicted of killing anyone himself, but of being part of a group that killed a man in a marijuana buy gone wrong.
The Sheriffs’ Association would like to see felons banned, but Killeen said the ban on felons was part of what killed last year’s bill.
Taylor said the industry bill will include vetting procedures for bounty hunters, but it won’t ban all felons. Instead, the Department of Insurance would be able to waive anti-felony requirements for specific felons on a case-by-case basis.
“We don’t want to preclude anyone who has ever been convicted of a felony,” he said.