Alabama Senate joins other states in favoring federal law to intercept payments for court-owed fees/fines

I noted in February 2010 (Issue 4:8) that several state legislatures were encouraging Congress to adopt a bill to allow for court debt to be collected through the U.S. Treasury’s Offset Program (TOP) which is used to collect delinquent debts owed to federal agencies and states (including past-due child support). Last week, Alabama’s SJR 122 was introduced directly onto the floor and adopted by voice vote. While the text is not yet available on the legislature’s website, it is available thanks to the legislative tracking services provided by our friends at LexisNexis.

WHEREAS, the courts of this state order the payment of restitution to victims of crime as well as the payment of court fines and fees at the conclusion of criminal matters; and

WHEREAS, victims of crime are due these monies to help compensate them for the wrong which has been visited upon them by the perpetrator, and the state is due these monies to offset the costs of ensuring “[t]hat all courts shall be open” as required by the Constitution of Alabama of 1901; and

WHEREAS, unpaid restitutions and court fines and fees have been and continue to be a problem in this state, with currently over $ 551 million being due the State of Alabama in unpaid court-imposed fines and fees; and

WHEREAS, the Legislature by Act 2004-505, now codified as Section 40-18-100, et seq., Code of Alabama 1975, enabled the Alabama Department of Revenue to collect unpaid court fines and fees by use of a setoff of the state income tax refund of a debtor; and

WHEREAS, since the enactment of Act 2004-505, over $ 13.3 million have been collected in unpaid court costs and fines by the Alabama Department of Revenue; and

WHEREAS, the Crime Victim Restitution and Court Fee Intercept Act will enable the United States Treasury to offset restitution and other state judicial debts against an individual’s federal income tax refund in a similar manner as the Alabama Department of Revenue is permitted to do so pursuant to Act 2004-505; and

WHEREAS, the enactment of this legislation will enable victims of crime to receive the restitution due them as well as for states to collect unpaid court fines and fees; now therefore,

BE IT RESOLVED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF ALABAMA, BOTH HOUSES THEREOF CONCURRING, That we hereby urge the United States Congress to approve H.R. 1416 and S. 755, the Crime Victim Restitution and Court Fee Intercept Act, with all due haste.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, That a copy of this resolution will be provided to each member of Alabama’s Congressional Delegation.

Alabama is now the seventh state to consider supporting such a federal intercept program.

2011

Filed in May 2010 and still technically pending, New Jersey’s SCR 100 uses much the same language as Delaware’s HJR 14 of 2010 (see below).

2010

March: Mississippi’s SCR 671 noted that “the legislation has received support from a broad-based coalition of public interest groups such as the National Association for Court Management…” Due to its late filing late in the session, however, it failed to be adopted.

Delaware’s HJR 9 and HJR 14 claimed “the increased collection of court-ordered restitution, fines, fees and costs will benefit victims of crime, the State of Delaware, Delaware’s Counties and other municipalities, along with programs such as the Victim’s Compensation Fund and court security, all of which are particularly important during these extraordinarily challenging economic times…” HJR 14 which was eventually adopted unanimously by both chambers of the Delaware legislature and signed by the governor.

2009

February: New Mexico’s legislature considered HJM 73 in favor of the intercept legislation, finding “more than nine thousand individuals have outstanding fines and fees ordered by a court in New Mexico, which fines and fees total just under two million five hundred twenty-one thousand dollars ($2,521,000).” Moreover, New Mexico’s own state-level version, a tax refund intercept program, had already collected nearly $150,000 in unpaid fees and fines (as of February 2009). The resolution estimated that participation in the federal program would “conservatively” result in $300,000 in collections for the judicial branch of the state. HJM 73 was later approved unanimously by the legislature.

Arkansas HCR 1010 was introduced, supporting the bill, claiming the collection system would “contribute positively to the public trust and confidence in the judicial system. Like its New Mexico counterpart, HCR 1010 was approved unanimously by the state legislature.

April: Oregon’s SJM 12 was also unanimously approved by that state’s legislature, using much the same language as Arkansas HCR 1010 and also meets with unanimous legislative approval.

States continue to press for federal legislation to intercept income tax refunds to pay for court fees and fines

Readers of Gavel to Gavel the e-publication (and if you aren’t, why not subscribe now?) may recall several weeks ago I discussed resolutions in 3 states that asked Congress to intercept tax refunds and similar items in order to collect court fees and fines. Two other states have now introduced similar legislation in last week.

Mississippi’s SCR 671 “urge[s] the United States Congress to support legislation to add conforming language to federal statutes that will enable the states to intercept federal tax refunds for payment of obligations under legally enforceable court orders.”

Delaware’s HJR 9 notes “Delaware has an intercept system for state tax refunds and state lottery recipients that has collected more than one million dollars ($1,000,000) in outstanding court-ordered restitution, fines, fees and costs, over the past ten years” and encourages Congress pass the federal intercept legislation currently pending.

Emergencies and the courts

How courts operate, or don’t, post-disaster has been of considerable concern since 9/11 and all the more so after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Several states have tackled the matter. For example, Delaware’s SB 25 of 2009 provides for the operation of the courts in the event of an emergency and grants the Chief Justice the authority to declare a judicial emergency when there are emergency circumstances affecting one or more court facilities with such order limited to an initial duration of 30 days but renewable for 30 day periods. It allows the Chief Justice to order the conducting of courts outside their normal county, extend statutes of limitations, and similar measures.

In 2010, several states are looking at similar measures.

Georgia’s HB 185 authorizes the Chief Justice to extend the duration of a judicial emergency order when a public health emergency exists until the emergency ends (currently there is a maximum of 60 days).

Virginia’s HB 883 sets out a procedure for the Supreme Court to follow in entering an order declaring a judicial emergency when there is a disaster as defined in the Commonwealth’s Emergency Services and Disaster Law. The bill permits the judicial emergency order to suspend, toll, extend, or otherwise grant relief from time limits or filing requirements in any court affected by the order and allows designation of a neighboring jurisdiction as proper venue for civil and criminal proceedings.