New bail bond tax falters in Anderson County

Some Tennessee counties are moving to impose a 2.5 percent tax on bail bonds at their county jails, but Anderson County commissioners balked at the idea Thursday after being told the tax could increase jail populations because fewer defendants could make bail.

From the News Sentinel:
Anderson County commissioners last summer approved charging prisoners for items ranging from jail uniforms to toothpaste to toilet paper.

And in a new bid to help pay for a major jail addition and the needed new staff, a commission committee Thursday recommended new litigation taxes on all Anderson County criminal and civil cases.

But Legislative Committee members hesitated to endorse a new 2.5 percent tax on bail bonds after hearing from a lobbyist from the Tennessee Professional Bail Bond Association. Committee members put the move on hold for a month while it’s studied further.

“It absolutely will limit the number of defendants that can make bond and cause the jail population to go up,” Bill Nolan said before Thursday’s meeting.

Once arrested, criminal defendants typically are eligible for bail. Defendants post bonds of varying amounts that allow them to be released from jail; bond is intended to be of sufficient amount to assure they show up for court.

Interest in the new fee picked up after Jefferson County commissioners last month took the first steps toward imposing such a tax. Other counties are now considering such a move, Anderson County Law Director Jay Yeager said.

Yeager said the resolution he prepared in response to commissioners’ request that he study various ways to boost income to run the jail is similar to that approved in Jefferson County, “and several other counties are interested.”

Nolan said the state association has expressed concern that the new tax would reduce the likelihood that bonding companies would put up the requisite amount to secure a defendant’s release from jail.

Bonding firms receive 10 percent or less of a bond as payment from the defendant. Adding a 2.5 percent tax on cash-strapped defendants’ bonds could cut into the firms’ profit margin and reduce the likelihood of their entering a bail bond agreement, Nolan said.

“We’ve got to lower bonds,” said Nolan, a former state representative. “The more we raise these bonds, the more people we keep in jails.”

Commissioner Steve Mead, a member of the committee, expressed concern about the proposed tax. “I have a lot of problems putting this on a person before they are convicted,” he said. “It’s a pretrial punishment.”