Georgia lawmaker wants to change who gets passport fees

Some superior court clerks are personally profiting off passport fees. Now, one lawmaker is trying to change that.

For those who need a passport, in many Georgia counties the superior court clerk’s office can provide one. The processing fee is $35, but you may not know where that money goes.

"There needs to be transparency, disclosure of how the fees are being handled in each county," said state Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick.

When Sen. Kirkpatrick first learned that in Georgia, it is legal for superior court clerks who process passports, to keep the processing fee for themselves, she was astounded.

"It was very concerning to me that that would be legal under our state law and it seemed to me it should not be," said Sen. Kirkpatrick.

Sen. Kirkpatrick says about half of Georgia's 159 counties offer the service. Of those, in a little more than 50 of them, at least some of the money goes into the court clerk's personal bank account.

In Cobb County, one of the county's Sen. Kirkpatrick represents, Connie Taylor is the Superior Court Clerk.

In the past 2 years, records show Taylor took in more than $400,000 from passport fees. That is in addition to her $170,000 a year salary. 

According to the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia, some Superior Court Clerks in other counties brought in even more than that.

"It's a convenience to the consumer that's being provided by the county elected official, and they're using their office, their staff, their time, their equipment," said Sen. Kirkpatrick.

Sen. Kirkpatrick introduced a bill that would prevent court clerks from keeping any of the money.

The proposed legislation calls for 50 percent going to the clerks office to cover expenses and 50 percent to the county's general fund.

"I just thought it was time to close this loophole that's allowing a lot of money to go into people's personal accounts. At the end of the day, just because something is legal doesn't mean it's right," said Sen. Kirkpatrick.