Panel Approves Court-Jail Funding Bill : In Last-Minute About-Face, Assembly Unit Backs Bergeson Plan

Times Staff Writer

The Assembly Public Safety Committee reversed itself Tuesday and approved a bill that would raise $5 million a year for new court facilities and a new jail in Orange County. The vote was 4 to 0, the bare minimum of affirmative votes.

The bill, by Sen. Marian Bergeson (R-Newport Beach), was killed by the same committee July 13. The bill would add a $1 special assessment for every $10 that a person is fined in an Orange County court for a non-parking violation. The measure would add a $1.50 assessment for every $10 to parking-related fines.

The money raised would be divided equally between a fund for new courtroom space and a fund for a new jail. Bergeson said about $2.5 million a year would flow into each fund. The measure has already passed the Senate and goes to the Assembly floor.

"It'll pass there," Bergeson said. "Getting past this committee was my big worry."

The bill would establish assessments on fines to build new courts and jails for 16 counties.

"There are so many other counties supporting this bill that, when it gets to the floor, the counties will take care of it," Bergeson joked.

Already Has Assessment

While Orange County already has an existing assessment on court fines to raise money for courts and a new jail, that fund is insufficient to pay for all the construction needed, Bergeson said.

"We need at least $5 million more a year to keep up with our needs in Orange County," she said.

Her sentiments were echoed by Harmon G. Scoville, presiding judge of the Orange County Superior Court.

"I badly need places for my judges," Scoville said after the committee debate. "I've got judges operating out of trailers and warehouses."

Bergeson garnered the last votes necessary to get the bill to the Assembly floor just two minutes before the seven-member Public Safety Committee adjourned Tuesday. The committee has just one other meeting before the Legislature is scheduled to adjourn, and supporters of the bill said Tuesday's vote was the measure's last chance of passage.

Bergeson, Scoville and other supporters of the measure were jubilant about the vote.

Opposed to Assessments

Opponents of the bill said again Tuesday that they believe it is wrong for the state to pay for courts and jails by adding "a fine on top of a fine." They pointed out that so many county and state assessments are being added that they almost double original fines.

"I'll vote for this bill, but it'll be the last penalty assessment that I'll ever vote for in this damn committee," Assemblyman Robert J. Campbell (D-Richmond) said during the committee debate.

There was testimony against the bill from the American Civil Liberties Union, whose spokeswoman noted that the ACLU consistently opposes adding assessments to court fines.

The Automobile Club of Southern California also had a spokesman opposing the Bergeson bill.

Bergeson has said she wishes other means could be found to pay for a new jail and new court space in Orange County. But she said that since no solution was forthcoming, the assessment her bill proposes "would be like user fees" on people convicted and fined.

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