Indiana Supreme Court asks for funding swap to support technology initiatives

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IL file photo

Indiana Chief Justice Loretta Rush outlined the judicial branch’s biennial budget request for a 7% increase in funding, highlighting the work of the court technology office and its need for a steady stream of funding.

“The court has not received an increase in any type of monetary budget since 2016 … ,” Rush told the members of the State Budget Committee at a Dec. 8 hearing. “We feel very strongly about not asking for much and what we do ask for is what we’re going to need.”

In testimony and a letter , the chief justice requested a net $12.58 million operational budget increase for the fiscal years ending in 2023 and 2024.

The increase would provide annual appropriations of $8.5 million for the problem-solving courts and $500,000 for the commercial courts plus $3 million — double the current funding level — for the Civil Legal Aid Fund. In addition, a net boost of $2.08 million would come from swapping the filing fee revenue that is sent to court technology for a fixed $17.58 million each year.

Court technology is currently funded with a $3 million appropriation and a portion of the filing fees, according to Rush. The reversion amount has averaged $12.5 million over the past five years, which amounts to a total of about $15.5 million in funding.

Swapping the funding sources and chipping in another $2.08 million would make the annual appropriation $17.58 million.

Two years ago, the state’s judicial branch did not ask for any budget increase for the fiscal years ending in 2021 and 2022. In a September 2020 letter to the state budget director, Rush drew attention to the court’s technological initiatives but maintained that “strict financial constraints” would cover the expected increases in needs and expenses.

The only raise the Indiana Supreme Court asked to be included in the last biennial budget was a $500,0000 annual appropriation to the Civil Legal Aid Fund. However, the appropriation request was denied.

For the upcoming budget, the Supreme Court said more money is needed, especially to support the technological work.

“The reason that we’re looking for a steady source of funding is just because of the different services that we’re providing for technology,” Rush said.

Having described the court technology office as “the lynchpin to so many of our public safety efforts,” Rush gave multiple examples of how the tech team has created online systems that provide access for law enforcement to traffic tickets and protection orders; share information on child abuse and neglect cases with the Indiana Department of Education; block individuals with drug convictions from purchasing methamphetamine precursors at pharmacies; and enable medical and financial providers to see if an adult is protected by a guardianship.

In particular, Rush noted that 20 years ago, a woman who obtained a protective order against an abusive spouse would have to carry that paper around to show law enforcement. Now those orders are available to police online.

Also, Rush told the committee that in 2019, the Legislature added to the technology workload by asking the Indiana Supreme Court to lead a statewide jail overcrowding task force. Court technology was tasked with developing a system to collect and track real-time data on the incarcerated individuals.

“We’ll follow somebody from the arrest to the time they would be released from the (Department of Correction),” Rush said. “We don’t have that right now.”

After her presentation, Sen. Ryan Mishler, R-Bremen, chair of the State Budget Committee, summarized Rush’s request for the court technology office.

“I think what I’m trying to decipher out of that is you want the fees to go into the general fund,” Mishler.

Rush replied, “Correct.”

Mishler added, “And you want a guaranteed $17 million.”

Rush replied, “I do.” She then clarified that there are other filing fees that are already flowing into state coffers. Last year those fees totaled $33 million because the number of case filings dropped, but the cases have been ticking up this year.

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