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Bail Bond Info: Battle over bail bonds in Florida House

A so-called ``bailout'' for the bail bond industry is dissolving into political gamesmanship as the legislation advances to the House floor.

The sponsor, a future House speaker, stripped controversial language last month to disarm a skeptical panel -- but restored a similar provision Monday with the consent of friendlier lawmakers.

And now a prominent bail bond business is being criticized for hosting a fundraiser for state Rep. Sandy Adams just three days after she helped pushed the bill through her committee.



Adams just three days after she helped pushed the bill through her committee.

``This whole thing smells,'' said Hillsborough County Sheriff's Col. Jim Previtera.

The measure would eliminate pretrial release programs operated in several Florida counties by limiting eligibility only to indigent, nonviolent defendants.

It also revokes a county's ability to charge a fee, with exceptions for court-ordered GPS monitoring and rehabilitation programs.

BARBED EXCHANGES

It's a polarizing battle, drawing barbed exchanges in hearings as the bail bond industry fights what it sees as an overzealous government competing with business.

The local entities -- led by sheriffs -- contend the measure will make it harder for defendants to get out of jail and cost taxpayers millions more to house and feed inmates awaiting trial.

The debate consumed the House Criminal and Civil Justice Policy Council for more than an hour before it easily won approval. It now goes to the full House but faces an uphill battle in the Senate.

In advancing it, Rep. Chris Dorworth, the anointed House leader in 2014, drew criticism for his tactics. He helped add a controversial provision after previously deleting similar language in a committee where he needed the support of a Democrat, who gave it an edge, 6-5.

Dorworth said the new language was a compromise that lets judges determine if a defendant is indigent and able to participate in the pretrial programs.

But Rep. Perry Thurston, a Plantation Democrat, suggested it appeared disingenuous.

``I think it's potentially an attempt to do through the back door what he couldn't do through the front door,'' he said.

FUNDRAISER

Adams, R-Orlando, who is running for Congress, is also drawing rebukes from critics.

The president and lobbyist for Accredited, a prominent Central Florida bail bond insurer, hosted a fundraiser for Adams on March 29, just days after her House criminal justice budget committee passed the bill.

``It is very clear to me that when you have special interests with influence, these influences sometimes get preference over taxpayer's interests,'' said Pinellas County Sheriff Jim Coats.

Adams, a former sheriff's deputy, said she supported the bill but didn't lobby for it. She disputed the timing. ``I never thought of it that way,'' she said. ``It had no bearing.''

The event raised at least $10,000.

Deborah Jallad, the Accredited president, said she is a friend of Adams and also rejected any insinuations about the close timing of the vote and the fundraiser.

State law forbids lawmakers from raising campaign cash during the 60-day legislative session but provides exemptions for those running for Congress.

All together, Accredited donated $15,000 to state lawmakers in the 2010 cycle and other bail bond companies added thousands more.

Dorworth, the sponsor, received more than $4,000. He said it didn't influence his efforts.


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