The Senate Jurisprudence Committee is considering a bill that significantly would cut the costs for electronically filing court documents, while also helping the state pay for the new e-filing system that debuts this fall. Another bill would reimburse counties for the costs of technological upgrades to plug into the new e-filing system.
Although Senate Bill 1146 creates new, per-case civil fees and criminal costs, the bill actually would save money for litigants because the per-case charge would cover all e-filing, Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson told the committee on March 19.
"The per-case cost to e-file will be less than the current cost to file just one or two documents," said Jefferson.
The new e-filing system, TexFile, comes online in September. [See " New E-Filing System Touted as Cutting Fees, Simplifying Search," Texas Lawyer, Nov. 19, 2012, page 4.]
SB 1146 by Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, would create new fees of $15 in civil actions and court costs of $5 in criminal convictions to fund the system. If the bill doesn’t pass, the new system still will come online, but litigants will pay a per-transaction fee (with the ability to file more than one document per transaction) each time they want to e-file. The money would go to "the statewide electronic filing system fund," so the Texas Office of Court Administration could pay for the statewide e-filing system and for counties to implement the project.
But West said he’s considering increasing the amounts to $20 and $10, respectively, because as written, the bill wouldn’t cover the cost of the e-filing system.
The Legislative Budget Board’s fiscal note says SB 1146 would raise $15.64 million per year, but the e-filing system costs $18.1 million. The Texas Office of Court Administration noticed the discrepancy when the fiscal note came out, said OCA administrative director David Slayton.
A related proposal by West, SB 1147, would authorize counties, cities and appellate courts to collect another $2 fee for each e-filing transaction. The entities could use the money to reimburse themselves for the costs of integrating with the new e-filing system.
West said he was considering a revision to "sunset" the $2 fee, questioning "how long the counties need to recoup the costs that are necessary."
Talking about the $2 fee, Karen Matkin, president of the Texas District Court Alliance, said she is concerned about "whether the fees will be adequate." Matkin, district clerk of McClennan County, explained that before connecting to the new e-filing system on September 2013, the county must upgrade its computer hardware, operating systems, software and more.