By Rick Thompson
TAC Legislative Staff
Counties with populations of 50,000 or more must continue to operate the Collection Improvement Program (CIP) under the Office of Court Administration (OCA).
During the 82nd Regular Legislative Session, HB 2949 by Rep. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana) passed and was signed by the governor, striking this mandate and allowing those counties to choose how best to collect delinquent fines and fees. However, during the 82nd First Called Special Session, the Legislature passed SB 1, which included language — added at the very last minute — reimposing the mandate.
During the regular session, Sen. Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville) filed SB 1059, which would have made county participation in CIP voluntary. This piece of legislation passed the Senate, but did not make it to the House floor. The SB 1059 language was ultimately amended onto HB 2949 and passed into law.
During both chambers’ committee hearings on the original bill, one resource witness representing OCA testified that without the mandate, counties would stop collecting these monies, costing the state millions of dollars.
However, Angelina County Judge Wes Suiter disagrees.
“The idea that counties would stop collecting delinquent fines and fees if participation is made permissive is absurd,” Suiter said. “Like the state, counties are in a financial crisis and would only look to make the program more effective by using best practices.
“Also, this is a large state and one size doesn’t fit all. To require Angelina County to collect fines and fees the same way Dallas or Bexar does, is not being realistic.”
In the final days of the 82nd First Called Special Session, through a legislative maneuver allowing the conference committee to add language found in neither the House or Senate version of SB 1, the Legislature reversed the actions of HB 2949, making county participation in CIP mandatory.
Once again, 54 counties with existing programs will operate under this resurrected unfunded mandate. In addition, as a result of official 2010 Census numbers, eight new counties will be required to participate in CIP as well.