On Saturday, the Houston Chronicle ran a story titled, "Ticket dismissals cost Houston, thanks to plea bargains," lamenting that traffic ticket cases in municipal court aren't bringing in more money. The police union president opined that, "Traffic tickets are rarely dismissed because of problems caused by Houston police officers who write up the infractions," but others in the system pinned much of the blame on exactly that cause. "Sylvia Garcia, the former chief judge of Houston municipal courts, said prosecutors are often forced to dismiss or plea bargain traffic cases set for trial when witnesses, such as police officers who issued the ticket, are not available to testify," reported the Chronicle's James Pinkerton. And Houston traffic attorney Paul Kubosh "estimated that 30 to 40 percent of officers subpoenaed to testify don't appear for trial."
Whatever the reason, the story frets that "The substantial number of dismissals, which costs the city millions in lost revenue, is a result of an overburdened court system reliant on plea bargaining, according to police union officials and attorneys." Coupled with an overall decline in tickets written recently, both in Houston and statewide, the result is the justice system generating less revenue. Of course, that's not its purpose, or it shouldn't be.
In Dallas, the city council fired several municipal court judges they thought were being too lenient and brought on newbies who they expect will generate more revenue for the city, a move which has sparked intense controversy and a lawsuit.
On a similar theme, I was interested to see an AP story published in the Lubbock paper (Sept. 3) lamenting lost revenue from truancy by students which noted that:
The attendance push has been particularly strong in California, New York, Texas and other states where schools funding is based on how many children are in their seats each day, rather than enrollment. Several California districts have made a back-to-school ritual of reminding parents that schools lose money whenever kids are out.How often is law enforcement dragged into truancy enforcement? A bill analysis from failed 2011 legislation at the Texas Lege declared that, "there were 65,521 cases filed for parents contributing to nonattendance in the municipal and justice of the peace courts of the state" in the previous fiscal year. I have no problem with schools making every effort to identify students who miss class and work with their parents get them to school as a means of dropout prevention. But I've got a big problem with criminalizing everyday juvenile behaviors and diverting criminal justice resources from public-safety for rent-seeking purposes, particularly when the agencies doing so will later turn around and raise my taxes. To me, kids skip school (and parents condone it) because the product is often not of sufficient quality to make it a big priority for them. Then the state punishes them for voting with their feet.
Some have asked families with children who missed school for avoidable reasons such as family trips to reimburse schools the $30-$50 a day the absence cost in lost funding, or at least consider having a child with the sniffles or a stomach ache show up for the first part of the day so he or she can be counted before going home sick.
“If a child is not at school for any reason at all, including sickness, the district does not collect revenue,” the Spreckels Unified School District in Salinas, Calif., wrote in a pledge form issued this month asking parents to take vacations and to schedule routine doctor’s appointments when classes are not in session.
Under pressure from the local district attorney (emphasis added) and others to improve its attendance rate, officials in Berkeley last year got much stricter about demanding meetings with parents of students with three unexcused absences and conducting midday “sweeps” of local teen hangouts to identify ditchers. By June, the district had made $1.4 million more for the current school year and avoided laying off 148 teachers, said student services director Susan Craig.