While this isn’t a new issue or concern, we continue to see bills passed out of committee with very little attention paid to how they will fiscally impact local government.
Every year there are a handful of bills that allow for the resentencing of individuals who are currently incarcerated. While WSAC doesn’t weigh in on general State policy choices to change an individual’s existing sentence, counties continue to voice concerns as to the fiscal impact that these policy changes will have on the county court system. Some examples include SHB 1108 (Hackney) and HB 1324 (Hackney). Particularly, HB 1324 provides that qualifying offenders, approximately 3,000 individuals, are immediately entitled to a resentencing hearing. Just as in Blake, resentencing take the court, prosecutor, defense, and court clerk’s time – which costs counties money. Furthermore, this requirement adds a significant number of new cases into an already backlogged court system.
However, the bill fails to provide funding for counties despite the fact that the local government fiscal note provides that there is a minimum of $11.6 million in costs for prosecution and defense alone.
Similarly, SSB 5474 (Frame) imposes new administrative burdens on the county court system without providing funding for those costs. That bill requires the prosecutor to coordinate with the clerk to develop a list of all outstanding legal financial obligations (LFOs) for juveniles which include private, third-party agencies with whom the courts or local jurisdictions contract for the collection of LFOs, DCYF, and other private entities. It also requires the prosecutor to file an ex parte motion to waive any outstanding LFOs. This, in practice, means that county clerks and prosecutors must go through each case file to determine whether there were LFOs imposed. This is not an automatic process. Rather, it is a process similar to that which counties are currently going through in Blake cases. It imposes a large administrative burden on counties. Again, if the State chooses to create this new benefit or process, then the State should also provide funding for this new benefit or process.
Another bill, HB 1492 (Simmons), expands the impact of Blake beyond the scope of the Supreme Court’s decision. For example, it provides that the eligible cases are retroactive back to 1951 rather than 1971. It also expands the definition of LFO beyond that which is currently being used for the State to reimburse individuals. Counties, statewide, have processed approximately 43,000 Blake cases. This bill would result in counties having to go back and review all of those cases that have already been processed in addition to those that remain in the queue. Again, this is costly and time-consuming and should be paid for by the State
These are but a few examples of bills that will affect local government budgets. It is not necessarily the passage of one bill, but the cumulative impact of what is passed that imposes a serious burden on counties. The State should not only evaluate how bills impact the State’s budget, but also how its policy choices reverberate down to the local level.
WSAC, Policy Director