Deputy Legislative Director
On Monday, Feb. 4, the Senate Committee on Finance, chaired by Sen. Tommy Williams (R-The Woodlands), will consider the legislative appropriations request submitted by the Texas Indigent Defense Commission, which is asking for $135.5 million in state general revenue funds to help counties with the costs of providing indigent defense.
This session marks the first time the Indigent Defense Commission has submitted its own legislative appropriations request separate from the Office of Court Administration (OCA). There are presently no general revenue funds appropriated for the costs of providing court appointed counsel. All funds are derived from dedicated fees and court costs.
In its request, the Commission cites the substantial rising costs counties bear in funding indigent defense. Since passage of the Fair Defense Act, indigent defense costs have increased 127 percent from $91.4 million in 2001 to $207.5 million in 2012. However, state grants derived from dedicated funds have covered only a small proportion of those costs. In FY 2012, the state funded only about $28.3 million of the total statewide indigent defense costs, while counties contributed approximately $179 million (about 86 percent of the total costs).
The Commission is also asking the Legislature to restore access to all dedicated funds for indigent defense. During the 82nd session, the Legislature removed unexpended balance authority and capped the commission’s appropriation, leaving approximately $18.5 million in the Fair Defense Account that is not available to assist counties. In effect, a significant proportion of dedicated funds are not being used for the intended purpose of funding indigent defense.
To support the Indigent Defense Commission’s budget request, county officials can contact members of the Senate Finance Committee. Contact information for members of the committee is available here. TAC legislative staff has also prepared a legislative brief on indigent defense that provides some additional information about the mandate.