State Sen. Jose Rodríguez, D-El Paso, attached an amendment that helps pay for indigent defense to an important "non-tax revenue" bill that passed the state Senate Friday night.
The bill frees up more than $4 billion in the budget over the next two years to help mitigate deep cuts in areas such as public education and health care. It would do that primarily through various accounting techniques that include delaying payments to public school districts.
Rodríguez, not once, but twice, got approval to add on his measure that would help pay for indigent defense and basic legal services for the poor by establishing a $5 fee at justice courts and municipal courts on convictions that do not include pedestrian citations or parking tickets. The measure would bring in about $32.6 million over the next two years for the services.
Early on, as the bill was being debated, Rodríguez's amendment was approved on a narrow 17-14 vote. At the end of the night, however, the Senate voted to reconsider his amendment after concerns that not enough time was provided for debate. Rodriguez again got a 17-14 vote in favor of the amendment after presenting his case for a second time.
"There were a lot of young people here today that I'm sure are being taught in their schools, as we all were, that this is a country where we provide equal justice for everyone," Rodríguez told Senators as he sought support for his amendment.
He said if the state does not properly fund such legal services for the poor, "the woman who is a victim of family violence is not going to be able to get her representation to go into court and get a protective order or to get support from the court system."
Passage of the "non-tax revenue" bill, which now includes the amendment, allows Rodríguez to replace a measure that is awaiting final passage in the Senate after tentatively passing two weeks ago.
The Rodríguez measure to be replaced would have established a $10 fee at justice courts and municipal courts and a $2 document-recording fee on nonjudicial filings such as marriage certificates and property records. It would have collected an estimated $77.5 million in the next biennium.