Bill prohibiting GA court clerks from pocketing fees passed by Senate committee
Atlanta News First exposed a controversial law allowing superior court clerks to legally pocket thousands of taxpayer dollars
ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - A bill that would ban superior court clerks from personally pocketing hundreds of thousands of dollars in passport processing fees was approved by a state Senate committee on Wednesday.
The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick (R-Marietta), was approved by the Senate’s government oversight committee. It will also require clerks to disclose the total amount of processing fees they receive on a quarterly basis.
The bill now makes its way to the rules committee, which will determine if the measure is heard on the Senate floor before the legislature adjourns next month.
The legislation comes after several Atlanta News First Investigates reports exposing a controversial law that allows superior court clerks to keep thousands of dollars in passport processing fees.
RELATED: Superior court clerks legally pocketing thousands in passport processing fees
Persons applying for passports in Georgia pay two fees: an application of $130 that goes to the federal government, and a processing fee of $35, which goes directly to the court clerk to do with it what they want.
In Cobb and Fulton counties, the clerks have been keeping 100% of every $35 fee. Cobb Superior Court clerk Connie Taylor raked in more than $220,000 last year, while Fulton County clerk Cathelene “Tina” Robinson, pocketed $360,000.
“The media story that you all did has really raised awareness of this and has now generated enough attention that there’s legislation that I think has a good chance to pass,” Kirkpatrick, whose 32nd district includes portions of Cobb and Cherokee counties, said.
“They cannot take the money home when they’re using county resources on top of their salary,” she said. “The money needs to go to the county and/or the clerks’ office because they are a county office.”
RELATED: Court clerks are legally raking in the cash. But that may soon change
The bill voted on Wednesday was not Kirkpatrick’s original legislation. A series of amendments added to the bill would give superior court clerks a $7,500 personal supplement in the passport fees they collect in a calendar year is more than $7,500.
Any additional passport fees collected beyond $7,500 would be split, with 50% going to the county general fund and 50% going to the clerks’ office solely for maintaining and operating that office.
“Just because something is legal doesn’t make it right,” Kirkpatrick said.
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