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Steinburg: Forfeiture law change costing schools likely to be reversed

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State Rep. Bob Steinburg

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By Reggie Ponder
Staff Writer

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

State Rep. Bob Steinburg, R-Chowan, said he supports reversing a change to state law on court defendant bond forfeitures that he said has cost school districts across the state more than $5 million in revenue.

Steinburg, who was elected to the state Senate in District 1 last week, said the change to the state’s bond forfeiture law was included in a state bill lawmakers approved over Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto earlier this year.

According to published reports, the change effectively gives bail bondsmen more time to locate defendants who fail to show up for court and deliver them to jail before their bonds are forfeited to school districts.

Under the change, as long as a defendant out on bond is placed in jail within 150 days of when he failed to appear in court, the bail bonds agent gets to keep the bond. In the past, all bond forfeitures went immediately to school districts.

The change has already cost the Pitt County Schools $52,000 in revenue, according to a recent article in the Grifton Times-Leader. Pitt County Schools in-house counsel Emma Hodson told the newspaper that Session Law 2018-120 changed the way bond forfeitures are handled.

“This is an omnibus legislation pertaining to insurance,” Hodson said. “It’s a 40-page document and less than a quarter of a page is a change to the bail bond statute.”

Michelle Maddox, a spokeswoman for the Edenton-Chowan Schools, said she had seen the report about Pitt County Schools but was not sure how the legislation would affect Edenton-Chowan.

“Edenton-Chowan Schools has estimated and budgeted for approximately $90,000 for fines and forfeitures,” Maddox said. “At this time, we do not know how this change in law may impact the amount the school district receives in this category.”

Currituck County Schools Superintendent Mark Stefanik offered a similar assessment.

“We were made aware of the change in law, but at this time we are unsure about the effect it will have on our budget,” Stefanik said.

Camden County Schools Superintendent Joe Ferrell also said Camden had not received any specific information on the change.

Steinburg, who currently represents Chowan, Currituck and Camden in the state House and will also represent them in the Senate, said he had not heard any concerns yet from school districts about the change to the bond forfeiture law.

Even so, he indicated the change would have a significant financial impact on school districts across the state. He noted that schools received $11 million in revenue from bond forfeitures in 2016-17. Because of the change, the schools are expected to get only about half that amount, he said.

Steinburg said including the change to bond forfeitures in the “omnibus bill near the end of the session” resulted in it not “getting a more thorough and detailed vetting that it deserved.” He suggested lawmakers will take another look at the new bond forfeiture law and make changes that restore funding to schools.

“Legislators, including myself, plan to look at this next session to see if this issue can be more finitely addressed,” he said. “I suspect changes will be forthcoming to restore funding that I expect to support."

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