A bill that would increase juror pay through more driving and public transportation reimbursement was signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom on Thursday.
Assembly Bill 1981, authored by Assemblyman Alex Lee (D-San Jose), will change the 34 cents a mile reimbursement for jurors driving in from just one way into court to both coming into court and leaving court for the day. Those who use public transportation to get to the courthouse will also now be reimbursed for their travel. Courts will partner with with public transit operators to provide this no-cost service or to determine an alternate method of reimbursement up to a daily maximum of $12, as long as the courthouse is within a reasonable distance from the nearest public transit station.
In addition, AB 1981 will require the Judicial Council to sponsor a pilot program for 2 fiscal years to study whether increases in juror compensation and mileage reimbursement rates increase juror diversity and participation.
Assemblyman Lee wrote the bill due to the low per day juror pay of $15 a day starting the second day causing financial hardship for many prospective jurors, with many low-income Californians getting out of jury duty for that reason.
“The right to a trial by jury applies to both criminal and civil cases, but jury trials can’t be held unless people are able to perform their civic duties,” said Assemblyman Lee in a statement. “By expanding reimbursement options for taking transit and increasing juror pay, we can have juries that are more reflective of our communities leading to better outcomes and better experiences for the jurors.”
While a few Assemblymembers abstained from voting early on due to concerns of affordability for the higher juror costs for courts, the bill soon received bipartisan support from both houses. The Assembly passed the bill 75-0 in May, with the Senate following up with a unanimous 40-0 vote last month. While Governor Newsom did not release a statement on Thursday with the bill signing due to the Governor signing dozens of other bills into law, his support for the bill was also noted.
“A lot of people have been complaining about this for quite some time,” explained Los Angeles lawyer Oscar Carlyle to the Globe on Friday. “After a case is over, jurors are allowed to talk with us and sometimes I hear from jurors afterwards, and that is always the biggest complaint. A lot of people want to be on jury duty, but their work doesn’t compensate them for missing a week or so. Over a hundred a day goes down to $15 a day, and parking or taking the Metro cuts into that. In LA County it is hard to get a diverse jury because the pool can be restrained b hardships.”
“This bill will correct some of that. I mean, federal jury pay is $50 a day. California, it’s $15 a day after the first day. Yikes. And it’s not just lower income people either. Higher income people complain about this too. So it’s little wonder that this was signed into law.”
The new juror transit pay is expected to come into effect soon following signing of the bill.