COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - A bill to curb costs in the state's court system has been tossed back and forth between the House of Representatives and the Senate and it has Chief Justice Jean Toal preparing for the worst.
"I fear for the future of the court system in South Carolina," said Toal.
Those are strong words from Toal, the woman heading the state's courts.
"It would be a tragedy if we can't turn this vote around and get complete funding for the court," she said.
Lawmakers are proposing to take $15 million from Toal's budget. That's a hefty price tag alone, especially if you consider what will be lost.
"It would be a major, drastic change in the way social order and public safety is handled in this state," said Toal.
Toal says cuts to the state Judiciary Department affect everyone in some way. Law clerks and court reporters would lose jobs, the case load for solicitors and judges would increase and the terms of court would dramatically change. That means some counties would go weeks, even months without court proceedings.
"People's lives and livelihoods and their safety literally depend on these regular weeks of court," said Toal.
Lawmakers hope to restore funding for the court system by increasing fees. It's something Toal supports for now, but admits it's only a temporary solution.
"If they open back up the budget to find the $21 million that it would take to replicate the fee bill, they're going to have to cut from other entities that desperately need the money," said Toal.
That's something Toal is against. Her advice to lawmakers: give the core functions of government, like the court system, a fixed amount of money and don't have them compete for funding with other agencies. But if things don't turn around, Toal hesitates to think about what might happen.
"We would have to begin the painful process of unraveling the court system," said Toal.