Court filing fee increase voted down on House floor

Annapolis –
An unusual alliance of Republicans and urban liberals defeated a bill in the House Friday night that have raised filing fees for civil cases in order to help pay for a new computerized court records system now being installed.

The legislation, which had been sought by the state’s judiciary, was turned down 77-59 after opponents argued that the higher fees in eviction cases would ultimately be paid by low-income tenants who eventually raise the back rent to keep their homes. They noted that tenants in those cases are generally required to pay their landlords’ court costs.

House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga, a Harford County Republican, called it “a user fee for tenants being evicted.”

The bill would have raised the fees for the new computer system by $3 in eviction cases and $8 in other civil cases, bringing in an estimated $5 million in annual revenues.

The opponents included most of the Republican caucus and a majority of the all-Democratic Baltimore city delegation. Among the city lawmakers voting no were two of House Speaker Michael E. Busch’s committee chairs, Dels. Maggie McIntosh and Peter A. Hammen, who almost always support their fellow committee leaders’ bills on the House floor.

Montgomery County Del. Kathleeen M. Dumais, vice chairwoman of the House Judiciary Committee, said a motion to reconsider the vote is likely Monday.