A bill that would expand California county jury rolls to include those who paid Franchise Tax Board (FTB) state taxes received a new push this week following an Assembly Judiciary Committee hearing delay in early July.
The expansion of jury rolls statewide
Senate Bill 592, authored by Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), authorizes the FTB to update state tax forms next year to include new lines for their principal address and county to assist the jury roll expansion for each county. If passed, tax filers would join registered voters and licensed drivers for those who are eligible for jury duty in California.
With around 27 million licensed California drivers and roughly 20 million registered voters, the additional 18 million names under FTB tax returns, which usually only give one name per household, are expected to add at least a few million more names to the lists. The new potential jurors from the FTB filers are expected to be largely lower-income and minority.
SB 592 was created by Senator Wiener out of concern that current jurors are largely more wealthy and more white than the population of California. Supporters noted specifically that owning a car and having means to easily register to vote skews more towards wealthier people in general, and in turn the white and Asian population.
“If you don’t have a jury of your peers, a jury that is truly a cross section of our diverse communities, it is very hard for someone accused of a crime to get a fair trial,” noted Senator Wiener last month in a statement. “Trial by jury of one’s peers is fundamental to a fair and non-racist criminal justice system and a representative jury pool is crucial to making that principle a reality. We must change our broken and racist criminal justice system.”
Other lawmakers have agreed with Senator Wiener following the bills overhaul from a housing bill earlier this year.
Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) said earlier this year that the boost in state tax refunds earlier this year led to many first-time low-income tax filers, which will lead to a larger than expected jury pool bump if SB 592 is made into law.
“Our juries now are whiter and wealthier than California residents as a whole,” said Senator Skinner.
Many have also been arguing for the bills passage based on the constitution.
“We have a constitutional right to a jury that is a representation of our community in all of its diversity, and this measure gets us much closer to achieving that right,” added Assemblyman Ash Kalra (D-San Jose).
Little opposition to SB 592
There has been little opposition to SB 592. Some legal experts have expressed worry that the bill is being pushed too fast for proper analyzation, while some lawmakers have noted that bill could have the negative effect of people not wanting to file tax returns in coming years.
“I don’t think lawmakers want to scare people away from filing taxes, especially with many new filers being expected this year,” said Geoff Neumeyer, an accountant who helps low-income people in Los Angeles file taxes in a California Globe interview. “But if people want to get out of jury duty, or don’t want to expose how many people are living in one place, or something else, people may try to avoid state taxes. Look at how many not register to vote to not have jury duty.”
“18 million filers seems low for California’s nearly 40 million people, but remember, minors and others need to be taken out of the equation, many of who have licenses or can vote. This way, they get more who tried to duck the system or simply were not listed before.”
“It’s a democratic system, and everyone plays their part. I mean if George Bush and Barack Obama show up for jury duty, why can’t those that have been newly added go? You legally can take off work for that.”
SB 592 was passed unanimously in the Assembly Rules Committee 7-0 with 5 abstentions last month. It is widely accepted to be passed by the legislature and signed into law later this year.