Austin Lawmakers Consider Employer Incentives For Jury Service

Jury service is a civic duty, yet many people find ways to get out of that duty. Some low wage workers can't afford to stop their job and some companies do not pay their employees while out for jury service. Texas lawmakers will consider legislation that could change that.

In Harris County, almost 4 out of 10 residents who get a notice to serve on a jury panel don’t bother showing up. Harris County District Clerk Chris Daniel is responsible for finding jurors to fill 82 courts, which he says is a time consuming endeavor.

“Especially if they need a jury trial to get the word out that hey, we need you to come downtown for jury service. And so, we are looking for non punitive ways to encourage people to come downtown, because ultimately, it is their civic duty. It saves taxpayer money, and it instills confidence in the justice system.”

Republican state Representative Debbie Riddle is the author of a bill that would give employers reason to allow their workers to increase the pool of prospective jurors. Daniel says the bill makes sense.
“This bill is an incentive for businesses to be compensated by a reduction in the state margins franchise tax — for them paying employees to come to jury service.”

Daniel says his office would save about $100,000 dollars in taxes for every 5 percent increase in the jury pool.

JoAnn Baker was waiting to perform her civic duty. She knows it can be a hardship for some.

“People work and if they don’t, they’re taking care of little kids or aging relatives. It’s difficult. So I mean yes, it’s a responsibility I think we take it pretty seriously, but it’s not easy.”

The measure would not only ensure a more representative cross-section of society was serving on juries, but the District Clerk’s Office would save money by mailing fewer jury notices, and with more people appearing for jury service, residents would be called to serve less often.

Last year, Harris County mailed out over 400,000 notifications for jury service.