Ellis Urges House to Restore Indigent Defense Funding
Judges will get a raise, but counties will get no relief on indigent defense spending
(Austin)//Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) today urged the Texas House to restore millions of dollars in indigent defense aid to counties to SB 386, the judicial pay raise bill.
Senator Ellis successfully amended SB 368, legislation which budgets $30 million over five years to give Texas judges a pay raise, to increase state funding for indigent defense by $8.9 million in 2006, and $13.9 million every year thereafter to help relieve the current burden on counties. The increase would more than double the amount of money the state currently puts into indigent defense. Last week, the House Judiciary Committee stripped out funding for indigent defense.
"It is pretty darn hard to defend giving judges -- who all make over $100,000 a year -- a pay raise, boost our own retirement and then tell the counties they're not going to get a penny more to pay for indigent defense," said Ellis. "That's ridiculous."
Texas currently ranks 43rd in the nation in per capita spending on indigent defense ($6.71/per capita). A large reason Texas falls so far behind when it comes to protecting the rights of indigent defendants is the state offers little funding assistance to counties. Texas ranks 44th in the nation for state spending on indigent defense; contributing only 9 cents (8.9%) to every dollar spent by the counties.
Funding indigent defense has simply not been a priority for the state of Texas. Prior to 2001, the state of Texas provided zero funding to counties for indigent defense. In 2004, the state of Texas spent $12,303,439 on indigent defense, while counties spent $127,670,631. In contrast, 25 other states provide 100% funding for indigent defense, with many others funding at near 100%. The state of Florida, for example, spent $180 million -- $144,800,000 by the state and only $35,875,000 by the counties. In FY 2004, the state of Texas spent more on brush control ($14,464,794) and got more back through the Unclaimed Refund on Motorboat Fuel Tax ($13,977,784) than it spent on indigent criminal defense.
"The state of Texas spends more money on brush control than ensuring a fair and equitable defense system," said Ellis. "Preventing fires is important; so is preventing injustice."
"Counties were waiting for a thumb's up on indigent defense funding, and right now they're getting the finger," said Ellis. "I can assure you that if Texas judges want a pay raise, funding for indigent defense needs to be restored."