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Lake County fee bill moves forward

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The House Judiciary Committee met this morning to consider five bills that included assessing a $10 fee for Lake County court filings, which would be used to fund a consolidated judicial center.

Voting on the Lake County legislation, the committee voted 7-3 to send House Bill 1435 on to the full House for consideration. Rep. Linda Lawson, D-Hammond, proposed the bill, which would establish a fund aimed at financing, constructing, and equipping a Lake County judicial center in or near Crown Point. The fund for a consolidated judicial center comes on the heels of a 2007 study recommending many ways that local government could be more efficient.

If enacted, a $10 fee would be charged on any filing in Lake's Circuit or Superior courts, and in which a person is convicted of an offense, required to pay a pretrial diversion fee, or found to have committed an infraction or ordinance violation.

Lake Superior Judge Diane Kavadias Schneider wrote a letter supporting the bill, and Lake County Bar Association past president Gerald Bishop spoke in favor of the plan. He described this as a "bricks and mortar" bill that's a "no brainer" for the General Assembly, since it can help local officials self-fund a judicial center and become more efficient overall.

Bishop said attorneys must often travel to various courthouses in the county, frequently for hearings that may last only 15 minutes but aren't able to be done by telephone conference because the courts can't afford the equipment to make that option a reality, he said. As a result, the costs trickle down to clients.

With more than 100,000 cases filed annually in Lake County, this $10 fee could amount to $1 million for a new centralized judicial center, Bishop said.

Some lawmakers hesitated, voicing concerns about why this type of construction isn't being funded by a county action rather than a state law - and how county officials have historically not opted to hike taxes locally as others have done throughout Indiana to pay for court renovations or building projects.

Rep. Wes Culver, R-Goshen, noted his concern about allowing this money to be used to renovate existing buildings, which could postpone a new project indefinitely. Bishop responded that prohibiting that would stall change, as a new judicial center is many years off.

Ultimately, the bill got enough support from committee members to move on.

Other bills that passed out of committee after discussion were: HB 1175 that sets up a structure for protecting victims' rights in juvenile criminal cases; HB 1062 would allow a court to waive the two-year wrongful death statute of limitations in murder cases; HB 1077 creates special tool liens; HB 1578 amends state statute on GPS monitoring and restraining orders.

The full House met this afternoon and had multiple court and legal system-related bills to consider, including a measure on second reading calling for the election - rather than merit-selection and retention - of St. Joseph Superior judges. Indiana Lawyer's Statehouse Report has a rundown of relevant legislation and you can also read more coverage in the Feb. 18-March 3, 2009, issue of IL.

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