Higher jury duty pay, child support bills clear committee but edits to come
Rep. Michelle Davis, R-Whiteland, on the House floor in January 2022. Her bill would raise jury duty pay for the first time in 25 years. (Courtesy Indiana House Republicans)
A Senate judiciary committee on Wednesday approved a bill doubling pay for jury duty and another allowing courts to make fathers pay for a wider range of pregnancy and childbirth expenses, but committee members said they were actively working on changes.
Jurors earn less than minimum wage for an eight-hour day and haven’t gotten a pay increase in at least 25 years, according to bill author Michelle Davis, R-Whiteland.
The pregnancy expenses bill, meanwhile, began life as a proposal that would’ve let expectant mothers claim child support beginning at conception, in the wake of Indiana’s much-litigated abortion ban. But Rep. Elizabeth Rowray, R-Yorktown, previously introduced changes scaling that back among legal fears.
More compensation for jurors
Davis’ House Bill 1466 would boost pay — but would hike an existing fee and create a brand-new fee to help local units of government cover the new expenses.
Lawmakers had some quibbles.
Hoosiers who show up for jury selection currently earn $15 per day. Those chosen to serve earn $40 per day — about $5 dollars hourly for an eight-hour workday, significantly less than the state and federal minimum of $7.25 hourly.
The bill would double daily appearance pay to $30 and jury pay itself to $80 for the first five days. Starting day six, jury pay would increase to $90 daily. One amendment — easily approved — ensured people who are eliminated from the jury for reasons laid out in law would still get paid for their service.
But the bill would also increase the $2 jury fees convicts pay to $6, and create a new $75 jury fee for people filing civil torts or plenary actions, to fund the higher pay. The latter would be on top of an existing $100 civil filing fee.
Sen, Eric Koch, R-Bedford, said he was working on an amendment to limit the application of the new fee only to the people that request the jury trial.
“I prepared Amendment #2, but we didn’t quite get the language right. And my purpose was this: that I didn’t think it was fair in the civil filings … to assess someone a jury fee who didn’t demand a jury trial,” Koch said, adding that it would likely be taken up in an appropriations committee.
A representative for the Indiana Public Defender Council, an independent judicial branch agency, suggested the jury fee convicts pay also be waived when they’ve only gone through a bench trial.
“That is our only qualification in our support, is that I wish we could find a way to pay for this other than through fees on convicted persons,” the council’s Zach Stock told the committee. “But the benefits of the bill far outweigh that concern.”
Marion County Superior Court Judge Heather Welch said she and a jury had recently come off a three-week trial. Afterward, jurors said they’d lost wages and struggled to pay bills as a result, or paid hefty child care rates.
One young juror “had to reach out to his family to help pay his bills, and his concern was that some people might not have family that could help them,” Welch said. “So I think it really justifies this increase.”
The committee approved the bill 10-0; it’ll now go to the chamber’s appropriations committee to consider its fiscal impact.
More payments from fathers?
Rowray’s bill, meanwhile, would broaden the pregnancy and childbirth expenses for which fathers can legally be on the hook — in an attempt to further support Hoosier mothers.
Indiana law already allows court orders to include half of costs for prenatal and postnatal care, delivery, and hospitalization. The amended House Bill 1009 would add two more options: “other necessary expenses” related to birth, and “postpartum” expenses.
Experts previously testified in the House’s version of the committee that they feared the broad language would lead to “creative lawyering” and legal fights about causation.
Sen. Aaron Freeman, R-Indianapolis, said he wanted to work on a second reading amendment limiting costs.
“The dad should pay half,” Freeman said. “But when they don’t have any say, per se, in what crib is bought — the $1,000 crib or the $500 crib — that is where I start to have some challenges.”
Rowray assured other lawmakers concerned about which parent gets the windfall from a resale that carseats, cribs and other items have expiration dates and shouldn’t be used long-term regardless. And for items like clothing that can be resold, Rowray herself said a garage sale earned her “pennies on the dollar what I paid.”
The committee still advanced the bill unanimously.
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