(The Center Square) — A report from the Louisiana Commission on Funding the Justice System reiterated its mission to shift funding from defendants to taxpayers, though the panel made no specific proposals for getting there.
The report outlines the actions of the 25-member commission over the past year to study how various courts across the state fund operations, from defendants’ financial obligations to criminal fines, fees and court costs, and how all levels of the state justice system can reduce dependency. on self-generated income.
“Commission members heard testimony, reviewed documents and received reports from task forces of the commission, the legislative auditor, the National Center for State Courts and the public,” according to the report that was presented. to lawmakers on Monday. “The commission has adopted a multi-tiered approach to carrying out the tasks of the commission, including the individual tasks of the working groups, the combined responsibilities of the working groups and the issues dealt with by the whole commission. »
The commission has partnered with the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) for technical assistance to examine how states such as Alabama, Florida, Minnesota and New Hampshire have redesigned their court systems and planned to Use NCSC reports to develop future recommendations.
The commission also worked with the Louisiana Legislative Auditor (LLA) on uniform reporting of fines, fees, and pre- and post-judgment costs for state and local courts. A preliminary report presented to the commission by the LLA in November included only 4.9% of reporting entities because “reports for large collection entities (sheriffs, clerks and state agencies) were not due until December 31, entities had emergency do (sic) extensions to hurricanes, and LLA will need to manually enter data for some entities,” according to the report.
“More information will be needed to understand precisely how much money from court costs, fines and fees is being sued to support justice system agencies,” the report said, adding that efforts to collect the information are In progress. “The already herculean task was made more difficult by the lack of standard naming conventions for agencies, the use of a form that cannot be downloaded if modified in certain ways, and a lack of knowledge about the distinction between court costs, fines and costs or the purpose of reporting them to the legislative auditor.
Commissioners reviewed House Bill 403 last year to require lower-tier courts to create comprehensive budgets each year and proposed amendments, though the legislation did not pass the Assembly legislative.
The commission eventually came up with a set of definitions for various types of legal financial obligations, the judicial system, and the central or essential functions of the courts. The commission has suggested specific definitions for fines, restitution, court costs, fees, forfeiture/sale of assets and “scope of the legal system” that currently do not match across jurisdictions.
The only other recommendation was that the commission continue its work.
“No proposal was adopted by the full committee,” according to the report.
Several people who spoke at Monday’s commission meeting discussed the pros and cons of eliminating certain costs or fees, with law enforcement officials wondering how the funding would be replaced.
“We’re all for what you’re all trying to do, but…the elephant in the room is if you take money out, where does it come from to do it?” asked Carl Richard of the Shreveport City Marshal’s Office.
Others pointed to previous suggestions to use new revenue from the legalization of recreational marijuana to reduce reliance on fees, fines and court costs in the court system.
“Our projections show that we could bring in at least $100 million a year if we legalized, regulated and taxed marijuana,” said Peter Brown, with Louisiana Progress, “and I think using that money to fill that hole financing would be an original and creative way to find this money.
Daniel Erspamer, spokesman for Smart on Crime, a conservative criminal justice reform advocacy group, issued a statement about the state’s current system and needs changes after the commission released its findings Monday .
“Louisiana’s court systems should not depend on fines and fees as their primary source of funding,” Erspamer said. “Too often, the courts are stuck in the difficult position of having to rely on fines and fees to fund their operations while the most vulnerable Louisianans are left buried in financial obligations and face the risk of further incarceration. The state should lift people out of poverty, not lock them into it.
“It is clear that we must urgently seek ways to fund our justice systems through state or local appropriations so that justice can be delivered fairly and efficiently. We look forward to the commission’s continued work to spur much-needed common-sense reforms to adequately support our complex justice system while allowing Louisianans to get back on the path to opportunity.