Public defender funding legislation advances

House Resolution 977 and its accompanying legislation, House Bill 648, were approved overwhelmingly and now head to the Senate. When the Legislature established the state's indigent defense system, it created a mechanism to pay for it through increased court fines and fees. But in past years, lawmakers have diverted millions of dollars in collections to other programs, and the defender system has been slapped with a number of lawsuits.

House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee Chairman Rich Golick, the Smyrna Republican who sponsored the legislation, reminded his colleagues of the litigation and said the system has been underfunded for several  years. "This will bring stability to a system that needs to be stable," Golick said.

Under an amendment tacked onto the legislation, if the annual fine and fee collections exceed the money needed to pay for the defender system, any money left over will be returned to the state's general fund.

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