In Texas: Big ideas, bigger solutions

By Kim Cherry

You know what they say, everything is bigger in Texas! And that’s generally the case whether you’re talking about chicken fried steaks or road construction. One thing that probably isn’t as big in Texas as in other areas, but is just as serious, is the shortage of court reporters. We have heard about this issue for the past five years, and small actions have been taken to try to alleviate the impeding predictions. The 2013-2014 Industry Outlook Report by Ducker Worldwide (commis­sioned by NCRA) forecast has essentially come to fruition in all aspects.

In Texas, it was estimated that in 2018 we would be approximately 500 court reporters short of the demand. While some areas across our big state have felt the impact more than others, it has definitely become the main focus of those concerned in seeking answers.

In 2017, the Texas Court Reporters Associ­ation (TCRA) laid the groundwork for gaining momentum in this area. Instead of just sitting idly by, “hoping” and discussing the problem, TCRA polled its members, received input from stakeholders, hired some spit-fire lobbyists, and set out to put the train back on the track.

The Texas Legislature runs at a different time schedule than many other states, and Janu­ary 2019 was the beginning of the 86th Legis­lative session in Texas. Preparations had been made and TCRA, led by Steve and Amy Bresnen, trudged forward to make legislative history for Texas court reporters.

Texas H.B. 1619 was first introduced by a well-respected legislator, House Representative Jeff Leach, and co-authored by House Rep­resentative Art Fierro. Leach was chair of the House Committee on Judiciary & Civil Jurispru­dence, which was exactly where the bill needed to land. Texas Senate Bill 2094 was introduced in the other assembly by Sen. Brian Hughes. With those two bills being filed, we were plant­ed to further our endeavors of righting the derailment.

Now the hard work began. Our two es­teemed lobbyists worked tirelessly with the TCRA Legislative Committee, educating the legislature about the needs of the court reporting profes­sion. Countless hours, phone calls, emails, and lots of prayer went into the daily regime of getting the bills through committees. It was an everyday diligent effort work­ing on court reporters’ behalf, fueled by sheer determination and the continued subject of the “shortage.”

After several days, weeks, and months of work, an opportunity arose, and we jumped. Texas Senate Bill 891, an omnibus bill, became our new ticket. An omnibus bill is a proposed law that can cover a number of diverse or unrelated topics. Omnibus is derived from Latin and means “for everything.” An omnibus bill is a single document that is accepted in a single vote by a legislature but packages together several measures into one. This was a perfect vehicle for our bill. And in the end, this is what was passed.

I would love to explain all of the facets of the bill that pertain to court reporters; but for the sake of brevity, I have included the link to the analysis of the entire bill so that those with inquiring minds may go read every part of the new law. You can see it all here. The part pertaining to court reporters is Section 7.

The short rundown is as follows:

■ Court reporters’ records are not subject to the electronic transmission of documents under the Business & Commerce Code;

■ Notice of appeal must be served directly on the court reporter responsible for preparing the record;

■ Requirement of court reporting firms to sup­ply the signed document, known as further certification, to each reporter upon request;

■ Establishes two new categories/licenses of court reporters: apprenticeship court report­er and provisional court reporter;

■ Establishes reciprocity and substantially equivalent provisions;

■ Court reporting firms that are primarily owned and operated by a licensed court reporter shall pay only one registration fee;

■ Continuing education requirements for court reporting firms;

■ Clarifying complaint categories;

■ Clarifying gift-giving;

■ Outlining failure to fulfill commitments;

■ Clarifying prohibited contracts — restricting an attorney’s choice.

All of the new law has a definite impact on the court reporting profession. The three areas specifically addressing the shortage are the two new licenses established by the Legislature and the category entitled Reciprocity Agreement.

The apprenticeship and provisional licenses have been created in name, but the parameters of each license rest on the shoulders of the Texas Judicial Branch Certification Commission (JBCC), which regulates court reporters and firms in the state. Part of the legislation mandat­ed the JBCC to establish a stakeholder group comprised of various interested parties to make recommendations for the requirements of each license. At the present time, those meetings have taken place and the recommendations have been approved by the JBCC. Those have been sent out for public comment and await approval by the Texas Supreme Court.

Essentially, the provisional license will be for those with an equivalent license outside of Texas to come work in Texas for a stated period of time until such time as they pass the skills portion of the Texas state test. It is required that prior to application for such license, the written portion of the Texas state test be passed and that the applicant show proof of performing court reporting in another jurisdiction for three of the preceding five years.

The apprenticeship license is designed for the student working to achieve passage of the state test. This would also be for a stated period of time and would entail passing Part B, the written portion of the test, and passing one portion of Part A, the skills portion. The apprentice would be required to be under direct supervision of a Texas certified court reporter and be limited in reporting certain types of legal proceedings. Other provisions apply and will soon be posted on the JBCC website.

The reciprocity agreement portion of the new law would involve much the same as a provisional license. It would require that the applicant have a substantially equivalent license as confirmed by the JBCC and have the same requirements of passage of the Texas written test and performing court reporting for three of the preceding five years. The reciprocity agree­ment differs from the provisional as the reci­procity would be for court reporters who have licenses from states that have been confirmed as substantially equivalent to the Texas state test by the JBCC prior to application.

As of Feb. 7, 2020, the following states have been deemed as substantially equivalent: Alabama, California, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Oregon, Utah, and West Virginia. More about the JBCC endorsement procedures are available here.

In regard to reciprocity, the Texas Govern­ment Code Sec. 152.202 outlines the specific rule, but in essence it only comes into play when an agreement has been reached with another state to offer certification that’s reciprocal. For example, if a reciprocity agreement was in place with New Mexico, court reporters from Texas could practice in New Mexico and New Mexico court reporters would be able to practice in Texas, so long as all the parameters are in place.

The Commission was also required by Jan­uary 2020 to begin reaching out to other states in regard to reciprocity agreements. There are no agreements in place at this time.

There is still work to be done in bringing the train completely back on the track, but as you can see, Texas has made monumental steps in creating avenues to address the shortage in our profession. So, when you hear someone say, “Everything is bigger in Texas,” believe them. Along with having a big state, we have big ideas and even bigger solutions. Come to Texas and work!

Kim Cherry, RMR, is a past president of the Texas Court Reporters Association. She can be reached at kimcherry@rocketmail.com.

Registered Skilled Reporter (RSR) Skills Test registration open until Feb. 20

Registration is open for aspiring court reporters to test in March 2020 for a new NCRA certification, the Registered Skilled Reporter (RSR). This new designation will recognize those stenographic professionals who are looking to validate their beginning level of competency.

“Those new professionals who make the commitment to earn the RSR are also showing their commitment to continuing their skills and proficiency through professional practice while earning an income,” said NCRA President Max Curry, RPR, CRI, Franklin, Tenn.

Earning the RSR will demonstrate an ability to hold a verified level of skill to current and potential clients, current and potential employers, and fellow reporters.

Created as a stepping-stone credential to ultimately achieving the Registered Professional Reporter (RPR) designation, the RSR certification will offer the prestige of an NCRA certification for those new or returning to the court reporting profession who have yet to be able to get their writing speeds up enough to earn the RPR.

Current or aspiring stenographic reporters are eligible to earn the RSR and do not need to be members of NCRA to take the certification’s tests.

Candidates seeking the RSR need to pass three, five-minute Skills Tests:

RSR Literary at 160 words per minute

RSR Jury Charge at 180 words per minute

RSR Testimony/Q&A at 200 words per minute

To pass, an accuracy level of 95 percent is required for each leg. Passed RPR skills tests cannot be used toward earning the RSR.

There is a critical need for qualified, competent stenographers, and the RSR certification will help employers differentiate among candidates applying for these opportunities.

“When you earn the RSR, you have an opportunity to continue learning but begin to enjoy the personal satisfaction of seeing your skills used in professional practice and earn income while you continue your learning,” said NCRA Vice President Debra A. Dibble, RDR, CRR, CRC of Woodland, Utah. “It’s a win/win!”

Visit the NCRA website for more information.

Make the most of your NCRA membership by marking these dates on your calendar

Have you already set your professional goals for 2020? Here are a few ways that NCRA can help you make more money by earning a certification; develop your network by participating in networking events like the NCRA Conference & Expo; or work smarter by learning something new – and earn CEUs to boot. Mark these important dates on your calendars, and you will have taken an important baby step to meeting your professional goals this year. NCRA continues to be your one-stop shop for your educational needs, whether you are working toward your next certification, your cycle-ending date, or another career goal.

Keep in mind that NCRA members can earn PDCs by passing the skills or written portion of certain tests, such as the RMR, RDR, CRR, or CLVS Exams.

Here is a short selection of dates and events (dates are subject to change):

Because of how important certification is to the professions of court reporting, captioning, and legal videography, NCRA invites all members to “Celebrate Certification” Month with us in May. We celebrate all NCRA members as they show pride in the certifications they have earned, are working to earn, or are intending to earn.

Court Reporting & Captioning Week (Feb. 8-15), Memorial Day (May 25), Flag Day (June 14), the Fourth of July, and Veterans Day (Nov. 11) are also all good opportunities to schedule Veterans History Project Days to earn PDCs, although members and students are invited to participate throughout the year. And don’t forget that online skills testing is available year-round.

In addition, NCRA is planning webinars throughout the year, which will be announced in the JCR Weekly and on the NCRA FacebookTwitter, and LinkedIn pages as more information becomes available.

NCRA has announced Town Halls with NCRA President Max Curry, RPR, CRI, for Jan. 11, Feb. 22, and March 21. Additional dates will be announced later this year. The Town Halls, offered via Zoom, allow NCRA members the opportunity to ask questions via a Q&A feature. Registration is required, and only NCRA Members may attend the Town Halls.

Watch for more information in the JCR, in the JCR Weekly, and on TheJCR.com for registration, deadlines, and other ideas to earn continuing education.

The life cycle of a Skills Test

By Eva Liu

Believe it or not, from the birth of a Skills Test to its activation for our candidates, it involves quite a lengthy process and many people.

There are two committees whose charges include writing Skills Tests – The Skills Committee and the Test Advisory Committee (TAC).  Each committee member is responsible for writing several tests a year.  The Certification and Testing department works with the chairs to assign each committee member their various tests. Committee members use a software program called Syllables to ensure each test meets NCRA standards.  After the tests are submitted, TAC members travel to NCRA headquarters twice a year to “test the tests.”  Committee members bring their steno machines and write out each test that’s been submitted.  They make changes as they see appropriate, mark punctuation, determine preview words, and sometimes have to “throw out” some tests.  TAC works all day for two to three days approving tests to ensure candidates get top-quality tests.

After the approval process by TAC, NCRA staff formats and makes any noted changes accordingly.  Then, the tests are ready to be recorded at the recording studio by our voice talents.  The voice talents usually record about 30 tests in two days, including all types of Skills Tests, Jury Charge, Literary, Testimony, etc.  The NCRA staff is there with the voice talents to make sure that the tests are read perfectly and on time marks. 

After that, studio engineer and voice talent Rob Buhrman takes the recorded tests to his studio to re-check everything again, take out edits and the repeated parts that were recorded, and produce the perfect five minutes of test audio candidates hear on their tests.  Once Buhrman has finished, he uploads all the newly recorded tests so NCRA staff can listen to them and check one last time just to make sure there are no additional errors. 

Once the audio part is done, all the tests are formatted by NCRA staff for NCRA’s testing platform, allowing the platform to provide a preliminary score once candidates copy and paste their transcripts.  All tests with punctuation marks and preview words are scanned for NCRA qualified graders.  NCRA staff uploads all three files – computer-formatted documents, PDFs for graders, and audio files to the Realtime Coach testing platform once all items are complete. Every test that a candidate takes has gone through this entire life cycle.

“The creation of NCRA skills tests is a long and tedious process comprised of multiple resources: Two volunteer testing committees, certification and testing staff, voice talents, recording studio engineers, and NCRA partner vendors,” said NCRA Certification and Testing Director Amy Davidson. 

Eva Liu is the NCRA Certification and Testing Program Manager.

NCRA member recognized in local paper

The Herald-Whig reported on Dec. 29 that NCRA member Erin Johnson of Carthage, Ill., earned the Registered Professional Reporter certification. The announcement was generated from a press release distributed by NCRA on behalf of Johnson.

Read more.

NCRA member recognized in local news

The Detroit Legal News posted a press release on Dec. 18, issued by NCRA on behalf of Gina Wells of Chesterfield, Mich., announcing that she has earned the RPR.

Read more.

Local reporter recognized

The Hawk Eye posted a press release on Dec. 15, issued by NCRA on behalf of member Erin Johnson, Carthage, Ill., announcing that she recently earned the Registered Professional Reporter (RPR) certification.

Read more.

Local court reporter earns distinction

The Athens Daily Review posted a press release on Dec. 12, issued by NCRA on behalf of Tami Lewis, CRR, CRC, Canton, Texas, announcing her recently earning the Registered Diplomat Reporter (RDR) certification.

Read more.

Local court reporter earns certification

The Suffolk News-Herald posted a press release on Dec. 12 issued by NCRA on behalf of member Beth Chandler, Chesapeake, Va., announcing her recent earning of her Registered Professional Reporter (RPR).

Read more.

Holiday e-Seminar bundle sale

Pick a bundle and save this holiday season while you earn needed CEUs. These e-Seminars are available for purchase until Dec. 27. They will then be available to watch from Jan. 1-31, 2020.

Bundle #1

(Not for individual sale)

CEU: 0.225 CEU

Cost: $65 member/$85 nonmember

NCRA STRONG

Description: Members of the NCRA STRONG Task Force will share how to use the tools that have been created for you, which you can take back to your state to educate your clients about the facts and risks of digital recording and why a stenographic reporter remains the gold standard of preserving the record.  The PowerPoints, handouts, and tips will help you effectively present the material to your local bar associations and clients. By the end of the session, you’ll feel confident and ready to take on the role of steno advocate in your state!

Presenters: Phyllis Craver-Lykken, RPR, and Liz Harvey, RPR

International Depositions 101

Description: Interested in expanding your business and earning extra revenue by covering depositions internationally? Global deposition expert Ian Hardy will show you how. Specifically designed for court reporters and legal videographers, this session will teach you everything you need to know about covering depos abroad, including: 1) a survey of the market for international depositions; 2) what clients want from reporters and videographers who cover their depos abroad; 3) the legalities of covering U.S. depos in foreign countries; 4) important visa and travel information; and 5) special tips on how to keep things from going wrong when working outside the United States.

Presenters: Ian Hardy

Bundle #2

CEU: 0.225 CEU

Cost: $90 member/$135 nonmember

Easy Peasy, Lemon Squeezy

Description: Youʼve heard the adage “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” In this seminar, discover mental strategies and problem-solving skills that you can apply to your professional and personal activities in order to turn mountains into molehills and be the successful person you know you can be.

Presenter: Mike Hensley, RDR

Taxes and You

Description: This session will review options for self-employed individuals for filing taxes, reducing their tax liability, and maximizing their wealth opportunities.

Presenter: Meredith Glover, CPA

Purchase individually

Two of the e-Seminars are also available to purchase separately:

  • Easy Peasy, Lemon Squeezy, CEU: 0.125 CEU, cost: $65 member/$89 nonmember
  • Taxes and You, CEU: 0.1 CEU, cost: $55 member/$79 nonmember