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Court costs could increase to pay for more technology

February 5, 2015

Court fees to pay for new technology would rise at least 80 percent if legislation passed by the Indiana House Courts and Criminal Code Committee on Wednesday becomes law.

House Bill 1425, authored by Rep. Greg Steuerwald, R-Avon, proposes a $4 increase in automated record-keeping fees and a $2 increase in document-storage fees. That would bring the fees to $9 and $4, respectively.

The bill would also allow all ARK fees to be distributed to the office of the state auditor and then deposited in the state user fee fund – most of which would then be returned to the counties they originated from.

The committee heard testimony from several state and local court representatives, including State Appeals Court Judge Paul Mathias and State Supreme Court Justice Steven David, who were catalysts for the drafting of the legislation.

David said the bill would assist the state in unifying court technology in each county and could eventually lead to a savings of millions of dollars.

The intent of the legislation, David said, is to help county clerks and to address some of the funding differences currently taking place.

Committee members expressed some concerns as to how much of the collected fees actually return to the originating counties.

“We were unaware that that money goes in a tortured process and doesn’t always come back to where it belongs,” Mathias said. “We support all $4 (in higher fees) of the document storage fee staying local.”

David and Mathias said they anticipate the higher fees will bring in $6 million to the courts in fiscal year 2016 and $7.5 million in fiscal year 2017.

Several individuals who spoke to the committee Wednesday said the bill shed light on another funding issue county clerks are experiencing.

Currently, counties that opt to use Odyssey – an online case management service – must front the cost of distribution services used by non-Odyssey counties. The concern of several county representatives is that not every local clerk’s office will receive the same amount of money from the increased fees.

Committee Chairman Rep. Thomas Washburne, R-Inglefield, as well as Steuerwald, said there are aspects of the bill that need to be cleaned up. They recommended a vote to send bill to the House floor so that it can be recommitted to the budget-writing House Ways and Means Committee for additional changes.

“This isn’t the end,” Washburne said. “This is the beginning of this process. We aren’t there yet and we need to get this bill moved.”

The bill passed the committee 10-1.

 

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