The extra $1 tacked on to the cost of filing civil cases in Indiana state courts will continue to be charged for at least another three years, helping bolster the funds appropriated to provide legal assistance to low-income Hoosiers.
During the 2022 legislative session, Indiana lawmakers extended the sunset of the $1 filing fee to July 1, 2025. The money will support Pro Bono Indiana, which offers attorneys and legal advice for civil matters to individuals and families whose monthly income does not exceed 125% of the federal poverty level.
“We’re thrilled that we have three more years,” Charles Dunlap, president and CEO of the Indiana Bar Foundation, which oversees the pro bono program, said. “It very much has bipartisan support, which was great.”
House Enrolled Act 1260 was a massive 136-page bill that covered local government finance issues. Because the bill was introduced by Rep. Daniel Leonard, R-Huntington, the $1 filing fee provision was included.
The original language removed the sunset provision altogether, but as the legislation traveled through the Indiana House of Representatives, the expiration date was inserted.
A sunset was part of the initial bill that implemented the $1 surcharge and was extended subsequently in 2017 legislation to July 1, 2022. The filing fee was introduced in 2012 to help counter the free fall in interest rates, choking the funds flowing from the Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Accounts, which are used to support pro bono services.
On average, the surcharge has generated $360,953 annually.
Dunlap acknowledged that now that interest rates have begun to climb, some legislators may want to let the fee expire. But, he said, the money is still needed because even with more IOLTA funds coming in, there are still not enough financial resources to cover the legal needs of the indigent.
“There’s such a huge level of demand for civil legal assistance and lawyers and other resources for low-income Hoosiers who need civil legal assistance, and that’s what these funds go to support,” Dunlap said. “… We’ll see where we are in three years. It may be that people think that it’s no longer necessary and they let the sunset expire. I hope that doesn’t happen. We will certainly be promoting the fact that we think it’s still needed and we think it always will be needed, which is why we prefer the sunset be eliminated.”
During the 2021 session, former Sen. Ron Grooms, one of the authors of the original bill, tried to get the filing fee increased to $3. That would have increased the revenue from the surcharge to an average of $1.08 million each year.
The Jeffersonville Republican scrambled until the end of last year’s session but could not get a hearing on his bill.
Dunlap said the bar foundation focused its effort this year solely on the sunset and not on increasing the amount of the filing fee.
Along with Leonard, Republican Sens. Kevin Boehnlein and Eric Koch introduced legislation that extended the fee until 2025. Senate Bill 241 stalled in the House.
Dunlap highlighted the benefit of the filing fee funds.
“This filing fee is consistent and it’s a baseline and it’s a recurring thing, as opposed to the interest rates and interest rate environment, which fluctuates and changes and from one year to the next and could be very different,” Dunlap said. “So the stability of the filing fee is another important aspect of it.”