Court clerks may soon be banned from keeping passport processing fees
Atlanta News First Investigates exposed a controversial law that allows superior court clerks to keep hundreds of thousands of dollars in passport fees.
ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - The Georgia Senate approved a bill Tuesday that would ban superior court clerks from personally pocketing hundreds of thousands of dollars in passport processing fees.
The bill passed by a vote of 34-19 and now heads across the aisle to the state House.
But it’s not the same bill that state Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick (R-Marietta) introduced last month.
If passed, superior court clerks would now be given a $20,000 personal supplement if the passport fees they collect in a calendar year are more than $20,000. Any additional passport fees collected, beyond that $20,000, would be split, with 50% going to the county general fund and 50% going to the clerks’ office to be used solely for operations and maintenance.
The bill would also require clerks to disclose the total amount of processing fees they receive on a quarterly basis. In addition, counties and clerks would have the ability to negotiate the clerk’s salary supplement. Kirkpatrick called the amended bill, a compromise.
“It’s the will of the senate,” Kirkpatrick said. ”I’m just happy the bill passed. And I do think it allows for disclosure, increases transparency and it also allows the counties to work with their clerk on making a sensible arrangement about how that money is handled.”
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.
At least 54 superior court clerks or probate judges in Georgia, keep some or all of the processing fees generated from passports.
“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.
RELATED: Court clerks are legally raking in the cash. But that may soon change
“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.”
Atlanta News First Investigates has tried multiple times to talk to the Fulton and Cobb County clerks, but all have denied requests for interview. Click here to read previous statements they and other metro Atlanta clerks sent about this.
“Just because something is legal doesn’t make it right,” Kirkpatrick said.
If there’s something you would like Atlanta News First Investigates to dig into, fill out this submission form.
Copyright 2023 WANF. All rights reserved.