In March, Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace B. Jefferson presented his State of the Judiciary speech before the 83rd Texas Legislature in Austin. Earlier this month, Disputing published the entire text of his speech in a series of three posts. (Part I, Part II, and Part III.) Since that time, a number of bills influenced by the Chief Justice’s State of the Judiciary speech were signed into law.
Here is a summary:
Basic Civil Legal Services – The Chief Justice encouraged the legislature to increase funding to BCLS.
* Senate Bill 1, the General Appropriations Act, continues the Texas Legislature’s appropriation for Basic Civil Legal Services at the 2012-2013 levels. The originally filed version of SB 1 had actually decreased funding for BCLS by $4.6 million over the biennium. This funding was restored after the Chief Justice and Supreme Court of Texas urged its restoration.
* House Bill 1445 expands the types of civil restitution recovered by the Attorney General that can be dedicated to BCLS. The maximum amount of restitution dedicated to BCLS is also increased from $10 million to $50 million per biennium. This bill means that the funding for BCLS can increase dramatically if there is a civil restitution recovery in the future.
Indigent Defense – The Chief Justice encouraged the legislature to increase funding for indigent defense.
* Senate Bill 1 increased the appropriations to indigent defense by $16.7 million over the amount appropriated in the 2012-2013 biennium. The legislature also restored the Indigent Defense Commission’s ability to have “estimated appropriation,” meaning that revenue collected for indigent defense purposes can be used for the intended purpose (and increasing revenue for indigent defense).
E-Filing – The Chief Justice encouraged the legislature to lower the cost of e-filing by transitioning from a per-document fee to a per-case fee.
* House Bill 2302 provides for a per-case e-filing fee that will eliminate the per-document e-filing fees. For the first time in Texas, attorneys and litigants will be able to e-file without paying exorbitant fees. Assuming 10 documents filed in a civil case, estimates show that this bill reduces the cost of e-filing by almost 94%.
Juvenile Justice – The Chief Justice encouraged the legislature to enact the reforms suggested by the Texas Judicial Council that would reduce the ticketing and prosecution of children for minor criminal offenses.
* Senate Bills 393, 394 and 395 were bills that contained the recommendations of the Texas Judicial Council. The bills eliminate ticketing for minor offenses that occur on school campuses and transition to a complaint process instead. In addition, the bills: 1) institute a system of progressive sanctions for the offenses meant to keep children in school and out of the court system; 2) extend confidentiality to children in these cases so that a minor criminal conviction for a young child does not follow them into adulthood; and 3) provide judges with flexibility in imposing court costs and fines against children, so that children are not carrying several hundred to thousands of dollars in costs and fines into adulthood.
Disputing would like to congratulate Chief Justice Jefferson on the widespread impact of his speech.