Friday, February 12, 2010

Virginia General Assembly: A Bill to Raise Fees in General District and Circuit Courts

This week, Senate Bill 329 was voted out of the Finance Committee, 13-2. It now awaits action by the full Senate.

SB 329 revises the fees charged in connection with filing actions in Virginia's general district and circuit courts. You can read the full text of the proposed bill at the Legislative Information System's website, here.

The fee increases are significant:
  • The cost of filing unlawful detainers, warrant in debts, garnishment, and a number of other actions in general district court would rise from $27 to $75.

  • The cost of filing a claim for less than $1 million in circuit court would rise from $60 to $500 (an increase of 1,200%!).

  • The cost of filing a claim for more than $1 million in circuit court would rise from $160 to $1,000.

Under the proposed legislation, all of the revenue from the increased general district court fees would be earmarked towards the funding of sheriff's offices, and the revenue from the increased circuit court fees would be earmarked 85% to sheriff's offices and 15% to Commonwealth's attorneys offices.

Sheriff's and Commonwealth's attorneys offices have been hit with significant funding decreases recently (as have Clerk's offices -- their funding is addressed in other proposed legislation), and SB 329 is one proposed remedy to the lack of funding.


Interstingly, former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deeds and current Republican 5th district candidate Robert Hurt both voted against an early draft of SB 329 in the Courts of Justice Committee.


If SB 329 garners enough support to pass in the Senate and then the House of Delegates, it will then be up to Governor McDonnell to determine whether raising fees to fund the sheriff's and CA's offices is consistent with his January pledge not to raise taxes on Virginians during the recession.

Rosalind Helderman had a good piece in the January 24 edition of The Washington Post (here) that examines the difficulty in drawing a clear (and consistent) line that distinguishes a "fee" from a "tax."