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I. SIMPLIFYING
ADMINISTRATIVE RESPONSIBILITIES
RECOMMENDATION 1:
Consolidate all state court costs on criminal convictions into a single cost; report all criminal court costs quarterly as a single total; and require that any new state court costs, fees, or fines and any changes to these costs be included in the consolidated fee structure.

Background
As of September 1, 1997, the Legislature created a Consolidated Court Cost that combined 10 court costs into one.4 This change gave the Comptroller responsibility for allocating the combined court costs collected according to a statutorily determined percentage for each fund involved. For a current offense, a city or county remits payment to the Comptroller’s office for the following costs:

  • Consolidated Court Cost (CCC)
  • Fugitive Apprehension Fund (FA)
  • Juvenile Crime and Delinquency Fund (JCD)
  • Compensation to Victims of Crime Fund (CVC)
  • Judicial and Court Personnel Training Fund (JCPT)
  • Time Payment Fee, if any payment is made on or after the 31st day
  • Judicial Fund (in statutory and constitutional county courts only)
  • Fees for services of peace officers
  • Failure to Appear, if the city/county is under contract with the Texas Department of Public Safety

Two of these funds were added in the same legislative session that created the Consolidated Court Cost. These are the Fugitive Apprehension Fund5 at $5 per offense, and Juvenile Crime and Delinquency Fund6 at 25 cents per offense. Both funds apply to each misdemeanor or felony offense, are collected by all municipal and county courts, and could easily be included in a further consolidation.

Two specific funds not included in the 1997 consolidation were the Compensation to Victims of Crime Fund7 (CVC) and the Judicial and Court Personnel Training Fund8 (JCPT). Since a consolidation of court costs had never been attempted before, the administrators of these funds expressed concerns about the effect consolidation might have on their funds’ revenue. Revenue levels to funds that were consolidated, however, have not been adversely affected.

The Time Payment Fee9 is imposed when a defendant pays any part of the court costs, fine, or restitution on or after the 31st day after the date of judgment. This report is due monthly, even though all other associated court costs are due quarterly. The monthly reporting requirement imposes a clerical burden when partial payments must be allocated between the monthly and quarterly funds. To simplify these calculations, many courts will choose to apply a partial payment to the Time Payment Fee first, instead of prorating it to all the court costs and fees involved. If no other payments are made, however, some court costs will go unpaid. This priority given to the Time Payment Fee over other court costs contradicts opinions of the Attorney General’s Office.10

The Judicial Fund11 includes civil fees and a court cost on criminal convictions in statutory and constitutional county courts. The report is due on the 10th of each month. Some counties have separate clerical personnel to work on the civil fees and criminal costs. As a result, they prepare two Judicial Fund forms per month, one for the criminal portion and another for the civil portion. The monthly criminal cost is assessed with the quarterly state court costs, resulting in the same problems with reporting and allocation that occur with the Time Payment Fee.

Fees for services of peace officers12 vary depending on the service performed. If a state law enforcement officer performs the service, 20 percent of arrest and warrant fees are remitted to the Comptroller’s office. These fees are due quarterly.

Failure to appear13 is a $30 fee assessed for each violation for which the defendant fails to appear in court. (Additional information on this fee appears in Recommendation 5.)

For offenses that occurred prior to the 1997 consolidation, cities and counties still must collect, report, and allocate court costs to the many separate funds applicable at the date of offense. This results in a complicated set of rate charts for each time period and complex forms for reporting state court costs before and after the consolidation.Cities and counties expend a tremendous amount of clerical effort in tracking and reporting state court costs, fees, and fines on both a monthly and a quarterly basis. The Comptroller’s office, in turn, must perform complex data entry, processing, and allocation functions.

As an example of administrative complexity, a county with one motor carrier conviction paid in 12 monthly installments must file the following reports in one year:

Form Due Date Number Forms
Per Year
State Court Costs and Arrest Fees Last day of month following calendar quarter 4
Judicial Fund* 10th of each month 12
Time Payment Fee Last day of each month 12
Motor Carrier Weight Violations Last day of month following calendar quarter 4
TOTAL 32 forms per year
* if the county participates in the Judicial Fund

If all 254 counties in the state had one such case annually, they would be obligated to provide the Comptroller’s office with a total of 8,128 report forms in one year.

In addition, the statutes governing the Compensation to Victims of Crime Fund and the Consolidated Court Cost outline a higher court cost for a municipal ordinance punishable by a fine of $201-$500 (for which the court cost is $59.25) than for a misdemeanor levying the same punishment (for which the court cost is $39.25). This difference adds to the complexity of court costs that must be tracked by cities and counties.

Recommendation
(A) All state court costs imposed on any criminal conviction should be included in a consolidated court cost by category of offense (Class A, B, or C misdemeanor or felony).

A simpler structure could be achieved by combining five existing court costs into one consolidated court cost:

Current Court Costs Proposed Court Costs 14
Consolidated Court Cost ($17, $40, or $80) Class C misdemeanor = $39.25
Fugitive Apprehension Fund ($5) Class A/B misdemeanor = $82.25
Juvenile Crime & Delinquency Fund ($0.25) Felony = $132.25
Compensation to Victims of Crime ($15, $35, or $45)  
Judicial & Court Personnel Training Fund ($2)  

This consolidation would be applied to offenses occurring on or after January 1, 2002 (Exhibit V).15

The total proposed court cost by category of offense was determined by adding the five funds listed above. A review of the number of cases in each category of offense revealed that about 94 percent of the revenue comes from Class C misdemeanors.

The city or county could collect the total state court cost amount for the category of offense (Class A, B, or C misdemeanor or felony), and report the total for each quarter. The Comptroller’s office then could electronically allocate the cost to the appropriate funds based on the weighted average percentages. This will be referred to as the “proposed 2002 consolidation” in the remainder of this report.

(B) Court costs for older offenses should be reported by time period rather than by fund, with the Comptroller allocating the revenue to the appropriate funds electronically.

The reporting for these offenses could be greatly simplified if cities and counties are allowed to report total state court costs by time period, with the Comptroller allocating amounts received to the appropriate funds based on that fund’s percentage to the total.16 Unless this is done, state court costs, fees, and fines still must be allocated to the different funds, causing cities and counties to maintain the current complex structure for the older offenses.

The Comptroller’s office has calculated percentages of revenue going to each fund using historical data for each biennium (Exhibit III). Revenue received in the future for those prior periods would be allocated by the Comptroller’s office using this historical allocation pattern. Reporting by time period would free up clerical time for cities and counties, possibly eliminating their problem of allocating full or partial payments to the various funds and reporting periods.

(C) Make the Time Payment Fee and the portion of the Judicial Fund related to criminal convictions due on a quarterly basis.

If the Time Payment Fee and Judicial Fund were due quarterly, along with the other court costs with which they are associated, they could be reported on the same quarterly report form with other court costs (Exhibit IV). This would eliminate the need for a separate reporting form for the Time Payment Fee (about 11,840 of which are filed each year). If the Judicial Fund also was put on a quarterly basis, about 3,048 more forms could be eliminated.

(D) Require that any new state court costs, fees, or fines, or changes to existing costs on criminal convictions be included as part of this proposed consolidated fee structure with the percentages adjusted by the Comptroller’s office based on the rate changes.

If new court costs, fees or fines are created in the future, or if changes are made to existing costs, the total state court cost amount under the proposed consolidated cost structure could be adjusted accordingly. The percentage fund allocations would be adjusted by the Comptroller’s office based on the rate change. This requirement would prevent the system from reverting back to its past complexity.

These recommendations would allow cities and counties to simplify their reporting efforts. All state court costs would be reported quarterly, and cities and counties would no longer be required to make allocations to separate funds or to prorate partial payments. Clerks would use new state court cost rate charts that provide details and totals by offense. They would report total costs collected by time period on the quarterly form, and list totals by time period for court costs in Section 1 of the form. The total costs reported in Section 1 then would be allocated by the Comptroller’s office according to percentage allocations derived from historical revenue figures for each biennium. If the defendant in a case has been making partial payments and cities and counties have reported money collected on the case, the proposed allocation formula would continue to allocate the remaining payments in the same distribution pattern.

Form revisions to accommodate quarterly reporting for all criminal cases would greatly reduce the amount of data that must be compiled and processed each quarter by the city and county courts. One form could be used by each city and county to report offenses for all time periods. The ability to collect and report a single amount for each time period would significantly reduce local governments’ workload and reduce the incidence of clerical errors.

Reporting simplification for these court costs would eliminate the following separate forms:
Report Form Eliminated Average Number
Filed Per Year
Motor Carrier Weight Violations 2,112
Time Payment Fee 11,840
Judicial Fund 3,048

Computer software used by the cities, counties, and the Comptroller’s office would require revision to accommodate the proposed 2002 consolidation and reporting structure. The costs of software and form revisions should be less than the clerical savings resulting in the municipal, justice, county and district courts and the Comptroller’s office. An additional benefit would come from the reduction of paper forms and postage.

Statutory amendments would be needed to allow cities and counties to report totals by time period. These amendments would affect:

  • Tex. Code of Crim. Proc. Ann. arts. 56.56, 102.019;
  • Tex. Gov’t. Code Ann. sec. 56.001.

Other statutory amendments would be necessary as well:

  • Tex. Code of Crim. Proc. Ann. art. 56.55 (Compensation to Victims of Crime), to equalize municipal ordinances and misdemeanors;
  • Tex. Code of Crim. Proc. Ann. art. 102.075 (Consolidated Court Cost), to incorporate the changes of this consolidation;
  • Tex. Gov’t. Code Ann. sec. 51.921 (Time Payment Fee), to change the due date; and
  • Tex. Gov’t. Code Ann. sec. 51.702, 51.703, and 51.704 (Judicial Fund), to change the due date.

The proposed allocation charts, report forms and rate charts presented in Exhibits III, IV, and V, respectively, assume the adoption of Recommendations 1 and 2 of this report by the Legislature.

Fiscal Impact
This recommendation would have a one-time fiscal impact in the first year, since one month of deposits from the Time Payment Fee (about $622,000) would be moved from one fiscal year into the next.

Other impacts on cities and counties would consist of necessary computer software revision; this is likely to be a negligible cost, since such revisions typically are included in software maintenance contracts. In addition, the recommendations would eliminate the need for approximately 17,000 reports per year and reduce the clerical time that must be devoted to tracking, recording and allocating payments.

Similarly, the Comptroller’s office would have to revise some forms and computer programs, but also would have to process approximately 17,000 fewer reports per year. This would generate savings in printing, postage, data entry, microfilming, and processing costs, as well as productivity savings representing a reduction in the audit time required to verify reports and funds allocations.

Fiscal
Year
Gain/(Loss) to
General Revenue Fund
Gain/(Loss) to
Local Governments
2002 $(622,000) $622,000
2003 0 0
2004 0 0
2005 0 0
2006 0 0

RECOMMENDATION 2:
Consolidate court costs for civil fees in district courts and require a quarterly due date for all civil fees.

Background
Several different legal provisions concern filing fees for civil cases filed in county-level courts and other civil fees. These provisions, enacted at various times, have created a complex reporting structure. At present, six funds require different reporting forms and different due dates:

Fund Description Filed By Due Date
District Clerk Filing Fee17 Suits in District Court District Clerk 15th of each month
Judicial Fund18 Suits Filed in County and Probate Courts County Clerk 10th of each month
Filing Fee for Legal Services for Indigents19 Suits in JP, County,
and District Courts
County Treasurer 10th of month following
calendar quarter
Children’s Trust Fund20 Marriage License Fees County Clerk 10th of each month
Family Trust Fund21 Marriage License Fees County Clerk 10th of each month
Birth Certificate Fee22 Certified Copy of
Birth Certificate
County Clerk Last day of month following calendar quarter

By court and clerk, the various fees end up in the following structure:
District Courts:
Amount Fund Due Date
$5 per civil case in divorce and family law Filing Fee for Legal Services for Indigents 10th of month following quarter
$10 per civil case other than divorce and family law Filing Fee for Legal Services for Indigents 10th of month following quarter
$40 per civil case District Clerk Filing Fee 15th of each month
$40 per civil case assigned to statutory county court District Clerk Filing Fee 15th of each month
Constitutional County Court:
Amount Fund Due Date
$5 per civil case Filing Fee for Legal Services for Indigents 10th of month following quarter
$40 per civil case Judicial Fund 10th of each month
$15 per criminal case Judicial Fund 10th of each month
Statutory County Court:
Amount Fund Due Date
$5 per civil case Filing Fee for Legal Services for Indigents 10th of month following quarter
$40 per civil case Judicial Fund * 10th of each month
$15 per criminal case Judicial Fund * 10th of each month
Statutory Probate Court:
Amount Fund Due Date
$40 per probate case Judicial Fund* 0th of each month
* Resolution of Commissioners’ Court required
Justice of the Peace Courts:
Amount Fund Due Date
$2 per civil case Filing Fee for Legal Services for Indigents 10th of month following quarter
County Clerks:
Amount Fund Due Date
$15.50 per marriage license Children’s Trust Fund = $12.50
Family Trust Fund = $3.00
10th of each month
$12.50 per declaration of informal marriage Children’s Trust Fund 10th of each month
$2 per certified copy of birth certificate Birth Certificate Fee ($1.80 is remitted to Comptroller) Last day of month following calendar quarter

This complex structure and the varying due dates create a significant administrative problem for counties. Counties find it difficult at best to gather, process, and report data for the previous month in 10 to 15 calendar days, a period that sometimes amounts to as little as six working days. Since the Judicial Fund includes both criminal and civil elements, and the filing fees on civil suits are split into three funds with three different due dates, the counties must spend a great deal of time just keeping these funds separate. It is sometimes difficult, moreover, for counties to get payments to the Comptroller’s office approved by their commissioners’ courts in such a short time period.

This structure has resulted in the creation of five separate forms for reporting civil fees, since the due dates of the reports vary. This creates a significant amount of clerical work and excessive expenditures for postage.

Recommendation
(A) All civil fees should be due quarterly, on the last day of the month following a calendar quarter.

This would change the due date for:

  • Children’s Trust Fund and Family Trust Fund,
  • District Clerk Filing Fees,
  • Judicial Fund, and
  • Filing Fee for Legal Services for Indigents.
(B) A consolidated amount should be used for all civil fees levied in district courts.

A consolidation of civil filing fees would simplify the reporting structure significantly, ease reporting requirements on counties, and give the Comptroller’s office responsibility for allocating revenue to the various funds. Consolidated of civil fees in district courts could be shaped as follows:

  • $50 filing fee for civil cases other than divorce and family law
  • $45 filing fee for civil cases in divorce and family law

These proposed fees were determined by the simple addition of the District Clerk Filing Fee with the Filing Fee for Legal Services for Indigents. The Comptroller’s office could allocate revenue to the two funds without affecting deposits to either fund. This consolidation would not be possible for statutory and constitutional county courts since the county judge or commissioners court must elect to participate in the Judicial Fund. Not every county has done so, making the question of allocation difficult.

(C) The county treasurer or custodian of the county treasury should be responsible for reporting all civil fees.

The responsibility for reporting county and district civil fees presently lies with the district and county clerks, rather than the “custodian of money in a county treasury,” as stated in the statutes governing criminal convictions. Transferring the responsibility for civil fees to the custodian of the county treasury would simplify reporting requirements for district and county clerks.

If all three parts of this recommendation are enacted, only one quarterly report form for all civil fees will be needed. If any additional filing fees are added or changed, the consolidated civil fee amount could be adjusted easily.

This proposal would reduce the number of required report forms for civil fees from five to one.23 Each county now files about 44 reports per year, but would file only four per year under the proposed consolidation. Approximately 10,160 paper forms each year for civil fees would be eliminated, and county record-keeping and reporting requirements would be simiplified.

These recommendations would require amendments to the following statutes:

  • Tex. Gov’t. Code Ann. secs. 51.701-51.704 and 51.901
  • Tex. Loc. Gov’t. Code Ann. secs. 118.015, 118.018, and 118.022

Fiscal Impact
Moving from a monthly to a quarterly deposit cycle would have a one-time fiscal impact in the first year, since the deposit of money for one month would be shifted from one fiscal year into the next. This would affect the Children’s Trust Fund and Family Trust Fund (about $245,000 deposited per month) District Clerk Filing Fees (about $889,493 deposited per month) and the Judicial Fund (about $555,887 deposited per month).

Filing Fees for Legal Services for Indigents would be delayed by 20 days, without affecting total deposits for the fiscal year. The deposit of money from Birth Certificate Fees would not be affected since its due date would not change.

Other impacts on counties would consist of necessary computer software revision; this is likely to be a negligible cost, since such revisions typically are included in software maintenance contracts. In addition, the recommen-dations would eliminate the need for approximately 10,160 reports per year and reduce the clerical time that must be devoted to tracking, recording and allocating payments.

Similarly, the Comptroller’s office would have to revise some forms and computer programs, but it also would have to process approximately 10,160 fewer reports per year. This would generate savings in printing, postage, data entry, microfilming, and processing costs, as well as productivity savings representing a reduction in the audit time required to verify reports and funds allocations.

Fiscal
Year
Gain/(Loss) to
Judicial Fund
Gain/(Loss) to
Children’s Trust Fund
Gain/(Loss) to
General Revenue Fund
Gain/(Loss) to
Local Governments
2002 $(1,445,000) $(201,000) $(44,000) $1,690,000
2003 0 0 0 0
2004 0 0 0 0
2005 0 0 0 0
2006 0 0 0 0

RECOMMENDATION 3:
Establish reporting for the Sexual Assault and Substance Abuse Felony programs on a quarterly basis.

Background
Two state court costs do not have a specified due date:

  • the Sexual Assault Program Fund;24 and
  • the Substance Abuse Felony Program.25

Local Community Supervision and Corrections Departments (CSCDs) typically report collections of these costs. The statutes creating the costs did not specify a due date for remittance to the Comptroller’s office, so the agency has established by rule that remittances are to be made “as soon as practicable.” In practice, however, the agency has no real way of determining whether a CSCD is holding money that should be remitted, or of setting a deadline for audit purposes.

For the Sexual Assault Program Fund, $350,734 was remitted for fiscal 1999, and $338,226 for fiscal 2000. For the Substance Abuse Felony Program Fund, only $885 was remitted in fiscal 2000. Since there is no established due date, it is unknown whether all monies collected have been remitted to the Comptroller.

Recommendation
The Sexual Assault Program Fund and Substance Abuse Felony Program court costs should be made due quarterly, on the last day of the month following the calendar quarter.

This would allow Community Supervision and Corrections Departments to complete a single report form for both funds.

This recommendation would require amendments to the following statutes:

  • Tex. Code of Crim. Proc. Ann. art. 42.12, sec. 14 (Substance Abuse Felony Program)

  • Tex. Code of Crim. Proc. Ann. art. 42.12, sec. 19 (Sexual Assault Program Fund)

Fiscal Impact
This recommendation might generate additional interest for the state from more timely deposits to the Substance Abuse Felony Program and Sexual Assault Program Funds. It would have no fiscal impact on local governments or on community supervision and correction departments. The Comptroller’s office would absorb small costs for form revisions.

OTHER FINDINGS
The review team’s research and conversations with local officials identified several other areas in the state laws governing court costs that have created significant bookkeeping problems for local jurisdictions. While the Comptroller’s office makes no recommendations in these areas, they are noted as promising fields for further study.

Juvenile Crime and Delinquency Fund Court Cost
The 25-cent court cost created to support the Juvenile Crime and Delinquency Fund has created a problem for cities and counties because it requires them to keep track of fractions of dollars. To eliminate this complication in their record-keeping, some local governments are increasing the fine by 75 cents to create a whole dollar total. Record-keeping for this small amount is further complicated when a partial payment is made that requires a proration of the court costs; the courts have found that prorating a partial payment to a 25-cent court cost is a difficult and unproductive task.

Juror Reimbursement Donation Program
A 1995 state law required that, for all jury summons issued on or after January 1, 1996, each prospective juror is to be given the opportunity to donate all or a portion of his or her reimbursement for jury service to the Compensation to Victims of Crime (CVC) Fund. As of September 1, 1997, this statute was amended to require that the donation be all or nothing; partial donations were eliminated.26

The 1997 law requires counties to prepare a donation form to allow jurors to donate their reimbursement to the CVC Fund. This requires counties to track and keep records on these donations, and to remit the donated money to the Comptroller’s office, all of which are time-consuming tasks. The counties indicate that the record-keeping involved in this process costs them more than the amounts donated and remitted to the Comptroller’s office. Significantly greater amounts are collected for CVC from court costs:

Fiscal Year Juror Donations to CVC Court Costs to CVC
2000 $304,214 $72,466,695
1999 $199,496 $69,755,908
1998 $197,767 $62,359,189
1997 $270,739 $61,515,662

In each of these years, juror donations made up much less than 1 percent of the total amount remitted to the CVC Fund from court costs.

Court Costs Based on Date of Offense
Court costs related to criminal cases are calculated based upon the date of offense, even though the date of adjudication or conviction may occur many months or even years later. This requires cities or counties to keep track of rate charts that may be years old, and forces them to keep track of money collected under various rate structures for reporting purposes. In cities and counties with automated systems, it also creates a need for computer software that can read multiple rate charts to determine which one is appropriate.

After the 1997 creation of the Consolidated Court Cost, cities and counties were required to separately track money collected on offenses that occurred prior to and after the 1997 change. The report form had to be revised to allow court costs to be reported under both the old structure and the new one. This entails additional work for cities and counties and creates opportunities for significant reporting errors.

If court costs were based upon the date of conviction rather than the date of offense, courts would be able to use current rate charts to determine the court costs, fees and fines due. This would eliminate the need for multiple rate charts.