Because of the wide-ranging duties of the office of the county clerk, no legislative session ends without affecting the business processes of that office in one way or another; this is also true of the Regular Session of the 86th Texas Legislature.
The following is just a sampling of the bills passed in 2019 that county clerks will need to familiarize themselves with.
House Bill 685, effective June 14, 2019
First, the good news: Court clerks, Commissioners Courts, and Texas counties are now afforded immunity from liability for the disclosure or release of certain documents and information contained in the records made available in re:SearchTX.gov, the statewide judicial records database promulgated by the Supreme Court of Texas and established by Tyler Technologies. With the advent and expansion of the state’s court records database, court clerks have voiced concerns about the question of potential liability should sensitive or confidential information be inadvertently disclosed on that website. H.B. 685 now makes it clear that court clerks and counties are not liable for the release of a sealed or confidential document, or protected information contained in a filed document, unless the clerk has acted intentionally, or with malice, reckless disregard, or gross negligence.
Senate Bill 658, effective Sept. 1, 2019
In 2013, House Bill 1513 temporarily increased the district clerk records archive fee and the district clerk and county clerk records management and preservation fees from $5 to $10 until Sept. 1, 2019. In 2019, Senate Bill 658 repealed the Sunset provision on those fee increases so that they will remain at $10. Note that the 2013 increase did not include the records management and preservation fee collected by county clerks in all civil and probate court actions filed in the county-level courts, which has remained at $5 since it was added by Senate Bill 1058, enacted in 1993.
House Bill 123, effective Sept. 1, 2019
County clerks who serve as the local registrar of vital records must issue a certified copy of the birth record of a foster child or youth or homeless child or youth upon their request without payment of fees or parental consent. Proof of identity requirements under §181.28, Texas Administrative Code, remain enforceable.
House Bill 2767, effective Sept. 1, 2019
County clerks may, when requested by the applicant, deliver a copy of a recorded marriage license by email, in addition to mailing the original license.
House Bill 3609, effective Sept. 1, 2019
A corporation, limited partnership, limited liability partnership, limited liability company, or a foreign filing entity required to file an assumed name certificate with the secretary of state under Chap. 71, Business & Commerce Code, is no longer required to also file an assumed name certificate with the county clerk.
House Bill 1528, effective Sept. 1, 2019
H.B. 1528 focuses on the judicial and reporting procedures relating to fine-only misdemeanor offenses involving family violence. Upon disposition of a fine-only misdemeanor involving family violence, the court clerk must report the information to the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) using a uniform incident fingerprint card or a DPS-approved electronic method. Since many fine-only misdemeanors do not result in arrest, clerks will need to be aware of this new requirement and work with their sheriffs or probation departments to devise a suitable method for obtaining fingerprints and generating the data necessary to submit the reports to DPS.
Senate Bill 41, effective Sept. 1, 2019
Court clerks will no longer need to report the appointments and court-approved compensation of certain court appointees who are serving without expectation of compensation, or as a volunteer with a nonprofit organization providing pro bono legal services to the indigent. Appointees serving without compensation are also exempt from the appointment rotation list requirements.
House Bill 2048, effective Sept. 1, 2019
H.B. 2048 repeals the Driver Responsibility Program and eliminates program surcharges. County clerks need to be aware that it also increases the State Traffic Fine under §542.4031, Transportation Code, from $30 to $50, and creates three new Intoxicated Driver Fines that will be reported and remitted to the state comptroller: $3,000 for 1st DWI conviction within a 36-month period, $4,500 for 2nd or subsequent DWI conviction within a 36-month period, and $6,000 for 1st or subsequent DWI conviction if it is shown at trial that the defendant’s blood alcohol level was 0.16 or more.
Senate Bill 325, effective Sept. 1, 2019
The Office of Court Administration (OCA) is charged with the creation of a protective order registry. The clerk must submit a copy of each application and any associated orders within 24 hours of filing, including an order modifying, extending, or vacating a previously granted protective order. Clerks should make every effort to obtain any information needed to ensure submission of these records to the OCA so that the information will be readily available to law enforcement agencies.
Senate Bill 891, various effective dates
This is an extensive bill that merits the attention of county clerks, particularly as it relates to the duties of the OCA. The bill transfers from the state comptroller to the OCA the responsibility for identifying and publishing after each regular session of the legislature each law enacted that changes the amount of certain court costs or fees. It also requires the OCA to develop and maintain a public information website that is easily accessed by the public.
The Supreme Court must develop rules necessary to implement the public information website and for the publication of citations issued in various types of civil proceedings. This bill also authorizes a court to prescribe substituted service through social media where substituted service is authorized under the Rules of Civil Procedure. The Supreme Court must adopt rules, no later than Dec. 31, 2020, to provide for substituted service of citation by electronic communication sent to a defendant through a social media platform. Presumably, the rules will include specific provisions for documenting proof of service perfected in this manner. Oh, the times, they are a-changing!
Senate Bill 2342, effective Sept. 1, 2020
This legislation increases the civil jurisdiction limits of statutory county courts to $250,000 and justice courts to $20,000, and also changes jury empaneling rules for certain civil matters in statutory county courts.
Senate Bill 346, effective Jan. 1, 2020
Last, but not least, the 86th Texas Legislature dissected and reconstructed the criminal court cost structure to modify the existing state consolidated court cost, add a new local consolidated court cost that incorporates the existing individual local fees with certain new costs, convert certain costs to “reimbursement” fees and fines, and repeal that pesky 10-cent moving violation fee. The County and District Clerks’ Association of Texas is working diligently, with assistance from the Texas Association of Counties, to provide the clerks with a straightforward, easy-to-understand diagram of the changes that must be made to existing fee schedule structures that will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2020.
Visit http://cdcatexas.com/ for additional helpful information, resources, and links. And just think… the 87th legislative session is only 16 months away…!
By Teresa Kiel
Guadalupe County Clerk