Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Loretta Rush made her case to the State Budget Committee Tuesday for additional funding in the coming fiscal years for court technology, telling committee members that the additional investment in technology now would pay off for the state down the road.
In fiscal year 2016, the total cost to operate the Indiana Supreme Court was $55 million, excluding an additional $97.6 million designated for local judge and prosecutor salaries, Rush told the committee. About 51 percent of the $55 million came from the Indiana general fund, while the remaining 49 percent came from additional sources, such as grants.
In the 2018-2019 biennial budget, which state legislators will begin to craft in January, the court is requesting additional funding of roughly $12.9 million to increase focus on three key areas, Rush said: court technology, funding for the Court Appointed Special Advocate service and court access programs.
In the court technology arena, Rush told committee members that recent initiatives such as the Odyssey case management system and e-filing are already saving the state millions of dollars by cutting down on paper fees, such as postage, and that those savings will continue as the technological initiatives are fully implemented. To sustain the continued implementation and growth of those programs, the chief justice requested $17.8 million from the general fund to fund court technology, an increase from the current appropriation of $14.5 million.
However, Rush told the committee that the state would only feel a $6.8 million impact from the court technology funding. That’s because she said the court plans to revert the roughly $11 million it collects in ARK fees back to the state, she said.
Additionally, Rush told the committee members that her court would continue to pursue other funding options, such as grants, to fund court technology, and would also maintain its reserve fund for unforeseen emergencies. The 2016 reserve fund totaled roughly $8.1 million, excluding grants.
Aside from court technology, the chief justice also asked for an additional approximately $1.3 million to support CASA and guardian ad litem programs throughout the state. In the last year alone, Rush told the committee that there has been a 23 percent increase in cases involving an abused or neglected child, with 17,491 current active cases.
Even with grants to support local GAL and CASA programs, Rush said there remains insufficient funding for the wave of CHINS cases that continues to wash over the state. The additional funding she requested will help recruit, screen, train, supervise and retain CASA and GAL volunteers.
The Supreme Court requested only one new staff member for the 2018-2019 budget – a staff training attorney to train more than 6,000 people in the Indiana judicial system to ensure consistency and compliance with new state practices, such as the recent revisions to the criminal code. Rush requested around $130,000 a year for salary, benefits and startup costs related to the training attorney.
Other additional funding requests were made for court access programs such as veterans and commercial courts and court interpreters.
Sen. Luke Kenley, a longtime leader in Indiana budget and fiscal policy legislation and member of the State Budget Committee, expressed some concerns about Rush’s presentation, telling her that the Supreme Court received a significant funding boost during the last budget process and that most state agencies would not be receiving the kind of additional boost she is asking for this year.
The court budget presentation can be found here and the handout given to the State Budget Committee members can be found here.