TESTIMONY TO THE
LOCAL GOVERNMENT & TOWNSHIPS COMMITTEE
OHIO HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
NOVEMBER 10, 1999
IN SUPPORT OF HOUSE BILL 440
BILLIE J. GREY, LAW LIBRARIAN
I commend to you for passage House Bill 440. This bill raises the amount of fines, penalties and forfeited bail directed to the law libraries in each County. The bill also requires contributions from Courts which are not currently contributing and includes municipal traffic ordinances in the calculations. The bill was introduced by Representative Ann Womer Benjamin.
Each County in Ohio has a law library operated by a volunteer board of interested local attorneys and available for the use of all elected and appointed officials of the County and the State. This mechanism for providing the judges with access to legal materials was established by legislation in 1872. There have been several amendments but the basic structure has been stable. This Bill is consistent with the statutory scheme, only increasing the dollar amounts provided to the law library, and redistributing the burden.
ORC Section 3375.54 specifies the purpose for which this money may be used. Annually each County Law Library reports on the funding which it received and its expenditures, as required by ORC Section 3375.56. The Auditor of State reviews the books and records of each County Law Library, usually biannually. If the funds received from fines, penalties and forfeited bail exceed expenditures for authorized purposes, 90% of the excess funds are returned on a proportionate basis to the political subdivisions from which funds were received.
The Statutory Funding was designed to provide funds from different offenses and courts, so that there would be adequate funding in every County. However, the funds to be paid were capped by the legislature. The caps have not been revised since 1939 for some sections and 1959 for others. The only sections which are not capped are the traffic fines. This has resulted in ample funding for Counties with strong traffic enforcement by State Highway Patrol or County Sheriffs. Counties with Interstate Highways and truck weigh stations are generally well funded. Unfortunately, traffic enforcement is not an accurate predictor of the need for a County Law Library.
The fact that County Law Libraries are dependent upon traffic fines also makes the amount of funding unpredictable. Obviously law enforcement priorities affect the extent of traffic enforcement and the amount of County Law Library funding. Much less obviously, a major winter storm, the closing of a truck weigh station or an emphasis on community service will reduce County Law Library funding. Conversely, amnesty week, allowing the payment of overdue tickets without penalty, or an initiative to collect unpaid fines result in unexpected funds. This bill will increase the amount of money paid from bail forfeitures and non-traffic fines, which will make the income less dependent upon traffic enforcement. The current dependence on traffic fines, and the resulting unpredictability of the amount of funding, make it extremely difficult for County Law Libraries to budget or even plan their expenditures.
The attached charts detail the Statutory Funding of County Law Libraries for seven of the last ten years. This information was self-reported by some counties, drawn from the Statutory Reports for the majority of counties and from the Auditor of State for a few. The seven years included are those with 100% reporting, plus 1998 with 68 counties reporting. Chart A has all counties in alphabetical order and includes information on the numbers of judges, attorneys and County population.
Chart B is sorted in ascending order based upon the 1997 numbers highlighting the minimal funding which is provided to some counties by the current scheme. In 1997 there were 34 Counties where the Law Library funding was less than $100,000. These libraries serve the County Justice administration, including Judges, Prosecutors and Administrators. There is a mechanism in ORC Section 3375.56 for those County Law Libraries with excess funds to return the funds. Unfortunately, there is no mechanism for the underfunded library to obtain additional funds.
The same data is included in Chart C but is sorted ascending based upon population. This demonstrates the inequities in funding among similarly sized Counties. The example which OSBA President Bonasera used in his correspondence, comparing Stark County with Cuyahoga County, is particularly dramatic.
Charts D and E use the same information, but focus on the percentage of change for each year from 1995 through 1997 for all Counties and through 1998 for some Counties. Statewide it appears that the County Law Library funding has been fairly stable. There was no statistically significant change from 1995 to 1996 and a 5% increase to 1997. Since there is not 100% reporting for 1998, the percentage of change statewide can not be reliably calculated.
The statewide stability masks dramatic changes in individual counties. From 1996 to 1997, the largest decline was 55% in Morgan County were the funding had declined 29% from 1995 to 1996. Morgan County also has the distinction of being the County with the least funding in 1997, on $9,147. The situation in the County with the highest percentage of increase does not appear to be much better. In Morrow County, from 1996 to 1997 the County Law Library funding increased by 95%. This followed a 38% decline from 1995 to 1996 and preceded a 17% decline from 1997 to 1998. Such funding fluctuations are a negative incentive to budgeting.
There are three matters which are not included in HB 440 but would benefit from your consideration. First, Section 3375.50 provides for the division of fines and penalties among Municipal and Mayor�s Courts for counties. For various levels of population under 150,000 the amount to be paid by each court and the amount to be paid by all courts is specified. However, for counties with population exceeding 150,000, the amount to be paid by each court is not listed. The current language divides the amount among these courts with a ratio, unlike the other sections establishing a dollar maximum. Hopefully, this apparent oversight can be remedied prior to additional consideration.
The second matter is the deadline for the Statutory Report due under Section 3375.56. The Statute specifies that the report will be filed on the first Monday of each year. For 1999 the first Monday was January 4, also the first business day. For the year 2000, the first Monday will be January 3, again the first business day. Such a deadline is unattainable. The report can not be finalized without bank statements and payroll documents. It would be a great assistance if the deadline were shifted at least to the first Monday in February.
Finally, the statute authorizes the law library to have a minimum staff paid by the County. As detailed in ORC Section 3375.48, the Library Board appoints the librarian and up to two assistants and the Judges of the Court of Common Pleas fix compensation to be paid out of the County Treasury. As revealed by a survey conducted in 1997, 60 of the 74 libraries completing the survey had staff of only one or two. Although it was not documented by the survey, there are County Law Libraries which pay or supplement the salaries paid from the County Treasury. Skilled staff is an important part of law library service, especially as there is more reliance on technology. Although it is not included in HB 440, it would strengthen County Law Libraries if there were a mechanism to assure that each County provides the salaries authorized by the statute.
Libraries, especially Law Libraries, are cumulative. To build a good law library requires the consistent acquisition of materials and technology. Technology does not reduce the need for the library, but it does increase the level of skill required of the staff. In Ohio, the unreliable funding prevents the planning and implementation which would cumulate into an excellent law library. House Bill 440 would greatly assist by making the funding more reliable.
Thank you for your time and consideration. I am available to provide additional information or documents which may assist in your review of this legislation. Please pass House Bill 440.