- Court Costs, Fees and Fines for Justice, County, and District Courts: Summary of legislative changes made by the 81st Texas Legislature, Regular Session, 2009 (pdf)
As usual, what we see here is for the most part a one-way ratchet: Only new fees are created and costs only ever go up. Fees charged for documents and routine job functions of the courts are increasing. (The only notable exception to that trend is the allowance for waiver of a fee for expunction related to an acquittal.)
There's a new fee for being arrested:
WARRANT FEE: A defendant convicted of a felony or misdemeanor shall pay $50 for a law enforcement agency’s execution of an issued arrest warrant, capias or capias pro fine, if the agency requests the court, not later than the 15th day after the date of execution, to impose the fee.And there's another fee for not arresting you but instead writing a notice to appear in court:
Arrest Fee: $5 for issuing a written notice to appear in court following the defendant’s violation of a traffic law, municipal ordinance or penal law or for making an arrest without a warrant. (Art. 102.011, Code of Criminal Procedure)There's a new $25 fee for anyone who elects to pay fines on a time payments, split 60-40 between the state and county courts..
The new veterans court program notably includes a "reasonable program fee not to exceed $1,000" along with "a testing, counseling and treatment fee in an amount necessary to cover the costs of any testing, counseling or treatment performed or provided under the program."
Adult probationers and parents of youth committed to TYC will be assessed a $34 fee to have their DNA swabbed for inclusion in the statewide database.
I also learned for the first time from this document about a bill that received little attention during the 81st Legislature (certainly by me) but which threatens to create a lot of mischief for folks caught up in the spiral of criminal fines and civil fees associated with unlicensed drivers and no-insurance tickets. Dubbed "Eric's Law," here's the comptroller's description:
House Bill 2012, effective Sept. 1, 2009, amends Section 521.457, Transportation Code, by enhancing the penalty for the offense of operating a motor vehicle without a valid driver’s license from a Class C misdemeanor to a Class B misdemeanor if it is shown at trial that the person was operating the motor vehicle in violation of the motor vehicle liability insurance requirement, and to a Class A misdemeanor if it is shown at trial that the person was operating the motor vehicle in violation of that requirement and caused or was at fault in a motor vehicle accident that resulted in serious bodily injury to or the death of another person.With one in four Texas drivers still uninsured despite millions of no-insurance tickets given, I seriously doubt this new law will change the number of uninsured drivers on the road. And the reason Texas' has so many drivers without licenses is that after they get a no-insurance ticket, the state suspends their driver licenses if they can't pay their steep "Driver Responsibility Fee," which is a civil penalty paid for three years after the offense on top of any criminal fines.
(BTW, I learned last week that the Department of Public Safety will next month finally be releasing its long-awaited new rules on indigency and amnesty programs for the Driver Responsibility Program. Stay tuned on that score. State Rep. Sylvester Turner's staff is trying to convince DPS to share the proposed rules with stakeholders before posting them in the Texas Register.)
HB 2012, authored by Dallas-area Democrat Allen Vaught, will discourage indigent drivers from complying with the law by increasing fees and fines so high they can never pay their fines and fees and also pay for auto insurance. If Texas cities had good public transportation, that might not be a problem. But with 25% of drivers uninsured, if starting tomorrow they all complied with the law and quit driving, it would actually disrupt the economy from so many people unable to work.
This change won't do any more than the old law to encourage drivers to buy insurance or renew their licenses. Instead it will jack up the fines they owe to an unreasonable amount, needlessly fill up the jails with more low-level cases, and, for indigent drivers, compel counties to pay for more attorneys for Class B misdemeanors. In other words, the new law creates a lot of problems with no real upside but squeezing revenue from a source (drivers who can't afford insurance) who already cannot pay for their basic obligations as a driver.
None of that's the Comptroller's fault, of course. She's just the messenger. It's just a bit of a Grinch-ish message to deliver every biennium, much less during a recession, that "fines and fees are going up."