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Bail training law locks out private company

Posted July 3, 2012

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— Under a bill passed in the closing days of this year's legislative session, lawmakers gave the N.C. Bail Agents Association the exclusive right to conduct training for bondsmen, shutting out a private company that provides similar training. 

"It's a total boon to the bail agents association," said Lynette Thompson, one of the owners of Rockford-Cohen Group, which runs the N.C. Bail Academy, based in Wilson and Wake Forest. 

Thompson and her business partners are urging Gov. Bev Perdue to veto. They say the law is the result of lobbying by the politically influential bail agents association, which doesn't like having a competitor.

A lobbyist for the association said the bill will ensure all bail agents get the same training and quality of information. 

"We don't need mavericks in this business," said Mark Black, the lobbyist. "We need professionals who are highly trained."

Bail agents and their employees post bond for people who are arrested. They ensure people show up for their court dates and are authorized to track and arrest those who abscond.  

According to the N.C. Department of Insurance, which oversees the state's bail agents, only the association and the Rockford-Cohen Group were authorized to offer continuing education courses. Rockford-Cohen began offering classes last year.

Documents provided by the Rockford-Cohen Group show a series of complaints and counter-complaints lodged to the department by one group against the other, each alleging improper conduct. 

Kerry Hall, a spokeswoman for the Department of Insurance, declined to make any officials there available for interview. However, she did say in an e-mail that the department "endorsed the bill because of potential cost-savings and standardization of training among licensed bail bondsmen."

The bill in question, Senate Bill 738, was originally filed as a measure dealing with liability insurance for establishments with Alcohol Beverage Control permits. The House Insurance Committee took the original language out of that bill and dropped in the bail bonds language.

That happened last week, as lawmakers began to wind down their legislative session and shortly after they let it be known that another bill favored by bail agents, which would have limited pretrial release programs, would not make it through the General Assembly this year. 

"Everyone we spoke with said they weren't told there was another (training) provider out there," Thompson said.  

In fact, during the long committee meeting on the topic, lawmakers were told this bill merely codified the existing training regimen.

"It seemed like a way to provide some stability for them," said Rep. W.A. "Winkie" Wilkins, D-Person. He said he didn't recall being told that there was any provider of bail agent training other than the association.

But that likely wouldn't have mattered, he added.

"The general tendency around here has been to go with an association as the group that knows what's going on in a particular business," Wilkins said.

Rep. John Blust, R-Guilford, said he knew there was another company but had been told their training was not high quality.

"It was made out to be something where there was something shady and underhanded that the other (private) company was doing," Blust said. 

Thompson said that her business was providing more frequent and more varied training than the association, and offering it at a lower cost.

"They didn't like the competition. It's money to them," she said. Thompson said the bail agents would not have been able to win their legislative victory without the help of powerful legislative allies. 

Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, chairs the powerful Senate Rules Committee. Rep. Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, is the Rules chairman in the House and was hired by the association to handle some of back-and-forth over the bondsmen training issue. Both men recused themselves from deliberations on the matter. 

Black said the association works to make sure that agents are updated on the latest policies and directives issued by the courts. His members are monitored by the Department of Insurance and are required to comply with criminal court rules, making it a very regulated industry. 

"We don't think this should be a for-profit business," he said. 

A spokeswoman for Gov. Bev Perdue said the governor is reviewing the bill but has not decided what to do with it.

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  • alwaysbefairplease Jul 6, 2012

    They don't think it should be a "for profit" business?? Well, the lobbyists probably didn't mention to the legislators that the prelicensing teacher for NCBAA makes over $100,000 per year teaching that 3 day class you're talking about, laser0306. You should have taken the class from Rockford-Cohen Group. I had to send new agents to that class until Rockford-Cohen came around. Rockford-Cohen's class is 2 days instead of 3 and so much better there's no comparison. Roland Loftin, RCG's instructor, is really excellent. The three agents who went to Rockford had no problem passing the state exam, but my new agents who went to NCBAA struggled with the exam, due to extremely poor instruction. So instead of trying to do better and compete with the new competition, NCBAA decides to get rid of them. And the legislators helped. Governor Perdue, please veto this bill. This company did everything right and should not be wiped out so that NCBAA can be free to rip off bondsmen once again.

  • Bogie Jul 6, 2012

    Sec. 32. Exclusive emoluments.
    "No person or set of persons is entitled to exclusive or separate emoluments or privileges from the community but in consideration of public services." This is from Article I, section 32 of the North Carolina Constitution. The bill should be vetoed.

  • laser0306 Jul 6, 2012

    I recently took the three day class to get my license thru NCBAA and they could have easily shortened the class to two days if they cut out all of the "give us your money" speeches.

  • greenivy10 Jul 6, 2012

    The commissioner wants money from NCBAA. That's the only reason he would support them. The new school is so much better and they actually teach subjects bondsmen can use. I personally called into DOI to tell them that the new school was the best thing that had happened to bondsmen in a long time. So what has happened? The legislators were lied to and told that they the better school was "shady" or that they didn't even exist. And the Insurance Commissioner along with NCBAA and their lobbyists was behind it. This is disgraceful and if they think we're going to let them get away with it, the are as stupid as this "monopoly creating" move they just tried to pull. Commissioner Goodwin, you broke the law and this will be your downfall.

  • bailrecovery11 Jul 5, 2012

    Why did Wayne Goodwin go along with this Felonious attempt to make the NCBAA a monopoly? Why did Senator Apodaca go along with this, he knew there was another private company that was approved by Goodwin to teach these classes. Tom A owns a bonding company and works hard to get things to go his way and in this case, no regard for the law. Wayne Goodwin approves the new private company, then sides with the monopoly. Why? Governor, please VETO this Bill!!!

  • caramelcheesecake Jul 5, 2012

    As I stated in my comment that disappeared:I signed up for CE class from Rockford Cohen,the new school, as soon as I heard about them. The difference was like night and day. For the first time in 7 years, I learn something I could use, and didn't just listen to 6 hours of propaganda about how I should give money to NCBAA. RockfordCohen taught us things like self defense and important legal issues that related to our occupation. The instructors knew what they were talking about. NCBAA even made up pay $20 extra to get out of the "fast line" at the end of class, otherwise we waited in the slow line for up to 45 minutes until we could leave.The legislators have been lied to and duped. The school that had the monopoly & wants it back is the one giving sub-par education. Since this new school,they have had to reduce their fees by half and add over 20 classes to the 5 they usually taught. They don't want to do better so they conned the legislature into making sure they don't have to.

  • caramelcheesecake Jul 5, 2012

    Mr. Binker, My previous comment disappeared as I was editing it, so the last paragraph will make no sense. I was saying: This new school isn't all about money, they did an excellent job and made the existing school look so bad they created a legislated monopoly to get rid of them. And the commissioner helped them because he's in NCBAA's pocket. All the bondsmen know the truth and it time the general public did too. I spoke to a Dept. of Insurance and he told me Rockford always got great evaluations and NCBAA got nothing but complaints. This new school would get at least 85% of the students this coming year. NCBAA doesn't want to be better, they would never spend the money this new school is spending to ensure of quality education. Rockford Cohen supports bail agents for the right reasons and we are not going to desert them. Governor Perdue: Veto this bill. Commissioner Wayne Goodwin: You just got the legislature to eliminate a private NC company. Fix this NOW!