Offenders found guilty of crimes or infractions in Idaho courts could face an extra fine that would prevent courts across the state from closing. People convicted of felonies would pay an additional $100 to the court, misdemeanor offenders $50, and people getting infractions would pay an extra $10.
“The surcharge will keep the courthouse doors open,” said Patti Tobias, the administrator for the state judicial branch. “It is fair to expect that those who use the courts, even those who do so involuntarily, pay the expense.” The extra fees should bring in $4.3 million a year, and would last for three years. Those fees would pay for drug courts, mental health courts, and family courts, as well as a statewide court record system called ISTARS.
The Senate Judiciary and Rules Committee approved the legislation Wednesday. The additional fees for offenders now face a full Senate vote. The House approved the measure March 22. A similar proposal that would have created a $25 fine for all offenses failed in the House this year.
Declining state tax revenues has affected Idaho courts, according to Tobias. “It has hit court services all over,” she said. There are 17 vacant positions in the state judiciary, including court clerks, webmasters, and law library employees. Tobias said there will soon be three vacant judge positions across the state. “We’re very worried that maintaining judicial positions vacant hurts Idahoans and our ability to hear cases without delay,” Tobias said. Idaho courts would see a $3.1 million drop in state funding in the next budget, which starts in July, based on a proposal already approved by the Idaho House.