Hertzberg, Bonta Look At Insurers Who Underwrite Bail Bonds
SB 779 asks Dept. of Insurance to look at whether bail insurance rates are related to the risk the insurers take on
SACRAMENTO – Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, introduced legislation this week as part of a two-track effort to figure out why the bail bond insurance market, unlike other forms of insurance, doesn’t link the cost of insurance with the risk assumed by the insurer. In addition to SB 779, Hertzberg announced that the Senate Committee on Insurance, Banking and Financial Institutions plans to conduct an informational hearing on the issue later this year.
Unlike other sectors of the insurance industry – which are highly competitive or are heavily regulated – bail bond insurers face little competition or government oversight. They experience little, if any, losses while steep, non-refundable fees force many people to remain unnecessarily in jail.
“It’s time to shine some sunlight on bail industry insurers and their operations, and make sure they are not exploiting the lack of oversight of this market,” said Hertzberg, who has co-authored the legislation with Assemblymember Rob Bonta, D-Oakland.
“California must do more to examine the practices of the insurance companies who support the money bail industry,” Bonta said. “We need answers and transparency into why so many people who don’t pose a serious risk to public safety languish in jail due to the inability to pay bail.”
“Recent concerns expressed by stakeholders illustrate the need for a close examination of the way we regulate the bail industry in California,” said Sen. Tony Mendoza, D-Artesia. “As Chair of the Senate Committee on Insurance, Banking and Financial Institutions, I will be conducting an informational hearing to study these issues during the interim.”
SB 779 calls on the state Department of Insurance to study the bail insurance market, particularly the relationship between the risk assumed by the insurer and the rates charged for coverage. The Department would also compare the risk and rates of bail insurance with the risk and rates of automobile insurance in California and make appropriate recommendations based on the Department’s analysis.
Auto insurers in California average losses of 74 percent. In contrast, one large bail insurer has publicly boasted that it sustained no losses at all in 2014 or 2015, and another smaller bail insurer has publicly stated that it did not pay any losses for 17 years.
A recent report by the ACLU and Color of Change, “Selling Off Our Freedom: How Insurance Corporations Have Taken Over Our Bail System,” details how bail insurers fuel mass incarceration and perpetuate racial inequalities. The report indicates that fewer than 10 insurers underwrite the majority of bail bonds in the United States.
Nationwide bail insurers back about $14 billion in bail bonds a year, generating revenues estimated at $1.4 to $2.4 billion. Until recently, there was little understanding of the role of bail insurers. As Hertzberg and Bonta worked this year to develop the bail reform proposal in SB 10, they learned of the role played by insurers who underwrite bail bonds in California.
Bob Hertzberg, chair of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Water, represents nearly 1 million San Fernando Valley residents of Senate District 18, which includes part of Burbank and the following communities in Los Angeles: Arleta, Granada Hills, Hansen Dam, Lake View Terrace, Mission Hills, North Hills, North Hollywood, part of Northridge, Pacoima, Panorama City, Sherman Oaks, Studio City, part of Sun Valley, Sylmar, Toluca Lake, Valley Glen, Valley Village, Van Nuys, the City of San Fernando and Universal City. See a district map at http://sd18.senate.ca.gov/district. After serving in the Assembly from 1996-2002, including two years as Speaker, Hertzberg invested in solar, wind and electric-car projects; and worked for structural changes in government through the Think Long Committee of California. Learn more at www.senate.ca.gov/hertzberg.
MEDIA CONTACT: Andrew LaMar
Senator Robert M. Hertzberg
Capitol Building, Room 4038
Sacramento, CA 95814