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Summary: Section 51.305 of the Government Code establishes a "District Court Records Technology Fund" for the purpose of "Preservation" and "Restoration" of court documents. To fund this endeavor, the State granted the commissioners court of a county the ability to adopt a "district court records archive fee". The money collected through this fee may only be used for preservation and restoration of the district court records archive. Finally, once the project is completed, the commissioners court may no longer impose this fee.
Supporters of HB 1513 contend that the $5 cap is too low to complete these projects in a timely manner. In Section 51.305 of the Government Code, HB 1513 increases the cap on records archive fees adopted by the county commissioners court from $5 to $10. In Section 51.317 of the Government Code, this bill increases the cap on court records archiving fees set by the county commissioners court for county clerks from $5 to $10. In Section 101.0611 of the Government Code, this bill increases the cap on district court records archiving fees adopted by the county commissioners court for district courts from $5 to $10. Finally, in Section 118.011 of the Local Government Code, this bill increases the cap on the "Records Management and Preservation Fee" and "Records Archive Fee" set by the county commissioners court for the county clerk from $5 to $10.
Analysis: These fees subsidize the preservation and restoration of court documents. While the fee increase from $5 to $10 seems insignificant, it should be considered in context. The cost of filing a lawsuit is made more expensive by required fees that include an archiving fee, filing fee, citation issuing fee, subpoena fee, searching for files or records fee, abstracting a judgment fee, approving a bond fee, certified or uncertified copy of a record per page fee, and records management and preservation fee.
Preservation and restoration of court documents is a worthwhile endeavor and modernizing court documents may save money in the long run and make those documents more easily available and searchable. The fee system, while perhaps not ideal, is essentially a user pays system in which those who use the court service pay some of the associated costs through filing fees. The alternative is to have the general taxpaying public finance these upgrades to a system that most of them will never use.
Recommendation: It is unclear what the total cost will be to achieve the preservation and restoration of court documents, what the cost breakdown may be by county, or how long this process will take. In theory the cost and timeframe could vary widely by county. While we support HB 1513 in principle, we recommend that legislators consider adding a provision requiring the fee to be reduced, eliminated, or subject to review after a specified time period. This will help to prevent continued collection of the fee after it is no longer necessary.