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House bill raises costs for courts

| Source: fortwayne.com

Speeding ticket fees go to brain, spinal cord study

INDIANAPOLIS – You got caught speeding and now must pay the price.

In addition to a basic fine, Hoosiers must cough up $70 in court costs. Then a $2 jury fee. And a $7 record-keeping fee. And $3 for public defenders. A $2 DNA sample processing fee. Then a $16 judicial salaries fee.

By the time everything is added up, average motorists are paying nearly $110 in court costs and fees for any basic traffic infraction.

And tucked away in the House-passed version of the state budget – now in the Senate’s hands – is an additional $18 fee to be added on to 27 moving violations – from running a red light to improper passing and speeding.

This time, though, the money won’t go toward running the judicial system. Instead, the millions of dollars generated statewide would be earmarked for a spinal cord and brain injury research fund.

Rep. Carolene Mays, D-Indianapolis, introduced a bill this year to set up a registry tracking these injuries as well as a research fund.

Instead, House leaders inserted the language into the budget to pay for it via a fee increase.

According to the Legislative Services Agency, more than a million Hoosiers were found guilty of one of the specified Motor vehicle operating violations in 2006. Assuming the numbers remain consistent, that means the $18 fee could bring in $19.1 million a year for the spinal cord and brain injury fund.

In addition, the budget calls for motorcycle registration fees to jump from $17 to $27, which is expected to bring in an additional $1.6  million for the fund.

“The thought was to build a research fund because we are seeing more and more spinal cord and brain injuries,” Mays said. “With the life-science growth that we have in Indiana we thought it was a perfect opportunity to combine the two.”

Nationally, about 11,000 Americans experience a traumatic spinal cord injury every year. Auto and motorcycle accidents are the leading cause of spinal cord injuries, accounting for about half of new spinal cord injuries each year, according to data from the Mayo Clinic.

An additional 24 percent of the spinal cord injuries are the result of falls – such as when actor Christopher Reeve fell off a horse in 1995, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down. He died in 2004.

Meanwhile, the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control reports that 1.4 million Americans suffer a traumatic brain injury each year. Of that, about 50,000 die and 235,000 are hospitalized.The leading cause of traumatic brain injury is falls – 28 percent – with motor vehicle-traffic crashes coming in at 20 percent.

Mays and other supporters of the legislation point to the high cost of future health care of these individuals as a reason for the state to get involved.

A 2006 Oxford University study found the direct medical costs and indirect costs such as lost productivity of traumatic brain injury total an estimated $60 billion a year in the U.S.

Stacy Payne, executive director for the Brain Injury Association of Indiana, said many people afflicted with brain injuries end up a taxpayer’s burden in the Medicaid system. She estimated the first year of costs alone exceed $500,000 with lifetime costs at $1.8 million.

She said there are no specific data available for Hoosiers with either spinal cord or brain injuries, something the bill would correct by creating a registry to track the injuries and the treatments.

Brian Carnes, legislative director for the Indiana State Department of Health, said the agency is working on a voluntary pilot registry for all trauma injuries and welcomes money to focus specifically on spinal cord and brain injuries.

“We pretty much know how to fix a broken bone, but spinal cord and brain injuries are not as easy,” he said, noting the registry can help track treatment and outcomes as well. “Car accidents are one of the leading causes of death, and we think it’s a valuable public health issue.”

Costs for the pilot trauma registry come from the department’s base budget – about $150,000 for implementation in the first year and $30,000 annually to maintain it.

But the department also hopes to hire a registrar and do data analysis with additional dollars, possibly from the new fund that is being created.

Mays said the fund was supposed to bring in only $8 million a year, and the proposed fee increase would likely be lowered as the legislative process moves forward. She also said that she sees a correlation between moving-violation fees and the injuries because many of them occur as a result of car crashes.

Of the money raised, Purdue University and Indiana University are set to get $500,000 each annually for research. A nine-member board would approve grants to other entities wishing to participate, Mays said.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Robert Meeks, R-LaGrange – who is reviewing the House budget and crafting the Senate’s own version – concedes the state is already involved in medical research via its research universities.

But using the court system to collect money is a bit unusual.

“I’m not normally in favor of raising court costs unless it’s to support the judicial system,” Meeks said. “It’s not that it’s not a good cause, but if it’s a good cause we have to find a different way of funding it.”

The fees are just one of dozens of bargaining chips within the proposed state budget – a two-year, $26 billion spending plan.

In recent years, lawmakers have leaned heavily on fees. Since 2000, courts costs and fees for an infraction have grown more than 50 percent. With the additional $18 fee, that growth would reach more than 80 percent.

Meeks is concerned that if legislators go to the same well too many times, a disgruntled citizen might challenge the whole system.

“Those are supposed to be used for adjudication of the court costs of the ticket,” he said. “If someone would challenge those, which may or may not happen, we may run the risk of losing all of them.”

nkelly@jg.net
Ticket breakdown

Here is a breakdown of fees collected by county clerks for infractions, such as speeding tickets and other moving violations:

$70 – Court costs

$3 – Law enforcement continuing education fee

$2 – Jury fee

$2 – Document storage fee

$7 – Automated record-keeping fee

$3 – Public defense administration fee

$1 – Judicial insurance adjustment fee

$16 – Judicial salaries fee

$2 – DNA sample processing fee

$3 – Court administration fee

50 cents – Highway work zone fee

Total: $109.50*

*This is in addition to any fine the infraction might carry based on the discretion of the judge.

Source: Clerk of Allen Circuit and Superior Courts

By Niki Kelly
The Journal Gazette

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