Bill to standardize indigency determinations heads to Holcomb

A bill bringing uniformity to indigency determinations in Indiana trial courts is headed for Gov. Eric Holcomb’s desk after clearing the Indiana House. The measure sailed through the General Assembly without a vote in opposition.

The Indiana House on Monday voted 94-0 to pass Senate Bill 302, authored by Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes, and sponsored by Rep. Greg Steuerwald, R-Avon. The bill received bipartisan support in both chambers, previously passing the Senate by a unanimous vote.

The legislation, which came out of the Interim Study Committee on Corrections and Criminal Code, creates a statutory list of factors for judges to consider when making indigency determinations. Such rulings determine whether a criminal defendant qualifies for a public defender or has the ability to pay for certain court services. The factors to be considered under SB 302 include a defendant’s:

  • Assets
  • Income
  • Necessary expenses
  • Eligibility for the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP
  • Eligibility for the federal and state Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, programs
  • Eligibility for another need-based public assistance program.

Tallian has repeatedly told lawmakers that different judges in different counties consider different factors when making indigency determinations. That’s led to what is sometimes called “justice by geography” – a person being found indigent in one county but being found able to pay in another county under the same circumstances.

Speaking to the House before the Monday vote, Steuerwald noted the bill also allows judges to receive evidence of a change in a person’s financial circumstances. Additionally, judges could prorate fees if a person has the partial ability to pay.

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