- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 3, 2016

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Mississippi Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney said Wednesday that he wants tighter state regulations for bail bond businesses and agents.

Chaney said in an opinion column sent to news outlets that many bail bond agents are honorable and fair, but he believes some have caused big problems.

“In addition to outright fraud, we have had agents accused of forcing people into prostitution, human trafficking, sexual extortion, kidnapping and armed robbery,” Chaney said.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Chaney said he could not point to arrests of any bail bond agents for any of those crimes. However, he said some are under investigation.

Jason Pack, spokesman for the FBI in Mississippi, said that because of a longstanding Department of Justice policy, “We can neither confirm nor deny the existence of any investigation.”

The president of the Mississippi Bail Agents Association did not immediately respond to a phone message and a text message left by the AP.

Chaney said his office has taken licenses away from some bail bond agents. He said in one instance, an agent did not return money to a person who had posted bond and was later found innocent on criminal charges.

“The unscrupulous bondsmen are giving the industry a very bad reputation for corruption and our state has limited statutory authority to regulate them,” Chaney said in the opinion column.

Bills will be filed in the next several days to create an electronic registry so courts and law enforcement agents can verify that a person holds a valid bail bondsman license, Chaney said.

He said he wants a database for bail bond agents to register every bond issued in the state. And he wants the state to require the agents to increase their own security deposits to cover the amount of bonds they write. Chaney said they can currently write an unlimited amount of bail bonds with a $30,000 deposit.

He said more than $1.8 million is owed to Mississippi courts by bail bond agents who fail to make sure their clients appear in court.

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ALSO AT THE CAPITOL:

- The Legislature on Thursday will begin a special session to consider state incentives for economic development projects in Hinds County near Bolton and at a port in Gulfport.

- Rep. David Baria of Bay St. Louis was chosen as leader and Rep. Robert Johnson of Natchez was chosen as assistant leader of the Mississippi House Democrats on Tuesday. Republicans hold a three-fifths supermajority in the 122-member chamber.

- Community college presidents and students rallied at the Capitol Wednesday to seek financial support for the two-year schools.

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Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: https://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus .

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