It’s Sunday—my favorite day! It’s the day I run to the driveway, retrieve my Austin American-Statesman and head to my comfy chair with a BIG glass of iced coffee!
This morning, an article by Eric Dexheimer, “Court Cost to Go to Other Uses” caught my eye and quite frankly, reminded me of mistake all business owners make – the old bait and switch.
Long before I moved to Texas, the 1997 Legislature passed into law what is called “The Fugitive Apprehension Fund” The fund’s purpose? To help police find missing parolees and catch fugitives. Sounds like a great idea?
The principle is everyone convicted of any crime must pay and assessment fee into the fund. In April of 2011, the fund was just sitting there, apparently not being used to apprehend criminals. The pot: $135 million! The state’s comptroller announced “the purpose for which the funds were collected is moot” so those fugitive dollars were pulled to the state’s general operating account. What will the state do with the money now?
A brandy new statewide emergency radio system! That’s a broken promise to taxpayers and well, criminals. And, the fees keep rolling in. They don’t call the fund “The Fugitive Apprehension Fund” anymore; in reality, it has no name.
I guess good names for the fund could be as simple as the “Radio Emergency Fund” Or my favorite, the “Marilyn Monroe Fund” for her quote: “It’s true! I had nothing on! I had the radio on!” Maybe tough guy criminals would be happier to pay a fee just thinking about the beauty of Monroe? It’s a thought.
Assessment fees are different based on the crime. For example, a big bad crime means a fee of $133 and crimes not so felonious are only $40. Beyond these two fees, even more money is raked into the new emergency radio fund via other fees. According to the American-Statesman, “There is a records management fee, a clerks’ fee, a county and district court technology fee and a courthouse security fee.” And that’s not all!
Eric Dexheimer’s story points out more fees:
*$50 if you’re caught and you have a warrant.
*$5 if you’re caught without a warrant.
*$5 to go directly to jail and $5 when released.
*DWI folks have to pay what is called a “visual recording fee” although the amount of the fee is unclear.
*Those committed of sex fines must pay a $250 DNA fee (I’m fine with this fee).
*And, if you can’t pay all these itemized fees, there’s a fee to set up a payment program—that’s an additional $25 along with $2 transaction and management fee.
Attorney’s Scratch Heads
So, this once great idea and promised fund to get felons off our streets is gone baby gone—even if the fees are still with us—they just go to the radio fund instead.
Defense attorneys claim they can’t make sense of all the fees and have a hard time explaining the long list of fees to their clients (everyone deserves the right to counsel so don’t yell at me). I can only imagine offering Igor the felon a long attorney’s bill including all the fees much like a hospital bill. “I don’t think so dude, I done my time. I ain’t paying this s___!”
I also wonder how many attorneys are forced to absorb these fees or enlist debt collectors to ruin the credit of convicts who have indeed “done their time.” Jeez to ruin great credit scores doesn’t seem fair! I mean if you get 5-10 and you had a past bankruptcy, when you get out, it’s probably not listed on your credit report anymore, but uncollected fees change all that.
Business Owner Lesson
As I stated earlier, business owners can learn a lot from this promise of a fund, only to change it without informing the state’s residents—or convicts.
Let’s say you own a flower / gift shop and for every dozen of flowers you sell, you promise a scented candle is thrown in for free. Your customers love you! You advertise the free candle and then suddenly, you change the game!
Instead of a free scented candle, you throw in a 10 cent keychain. This scenario is only one; there are business owners out there that do this all the time. Start a program, advertise the hell out of it, get lots of customers and then, change the prize at the end.
A sure-fire way to lose loyal customers (and referrals)!
If you start a promotion, keep it up and phase it out gently by something just as attractive.
Blip – Blip
I’m not sure how I feel about all this money slated for one purpose (to catch fugitives) now being used for an emergency radio fee. I guess part of the radio emergency fee could include some sounds when the airwaves pass by a criminal—maybe a little blip-blip that’s directed to police who could in turn, go get the fugitive.
For goodness sakes Texas lawmakers—share the fee! Why not a dual purpose fee? On the other hand, I do wonder how much of that $135 million (that keeps rising) went to conferences in Hawaii or golf outing days near Lady Bird Lake.
This is just not fair and a bait and switch tactic—and a bad one at that!