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Minnesota Legislature

Omnibus judiciary bill would fund increase in judge salaries, justice programs

The bottom line in the omnibus judiciary finance bill is a $1.06 billion funding request for the 2020-21 biennium, which represents a 12.3 percent overall increase of funding from the current biennium.

HF2705, as amended, would fund Minnesota’s courts system, including treatment courts, Guardian ad Litem Board, Board of Judicial Standards, cybersecurity, new judge positions, and pay raises for current judges.

The House Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Division heard public testimony on the bill Thursday, but took no formal action; offering of amendments and mark-up are scheduled for April 9.

Rep. John Lesch (DFL-St. Paul), division chair and bill sponsor, said it represents a significant financial investment in the state’s judicial system that will help “many Minnesotans who have experienced barriers as they seek access to justice and to be treated fairly.”

A significant amount of the increased funding would go toward giving those who wear black robes a little more green. The Supreme Court and Court of Appeals judges would get a 3 percent salary increase, and district court judges would get a 4 percent raise.

The bill would fund the four court branches in the 2020-21 biennium as follows:

  • $632.5 million for district courts;
  • $120.12 million for the Supreme Court;
  • $26.14 million for the Court of Appeals; and
  • $3.62 million for the tax court.

To reduce caseloads and increase capacity to handle complex cases, the budget would fund 31 new public defender positions in the first year of the biennium and another 19 in the next. The appropriations are contingent on participation in the state’s veteran’s specialty courts.

[MORESee the spreadsheet]

Thursday’s public testimony focused on Article 3, which would eliminate administrative forfeiture and modify criminal forfeiture by connecting criminal seizures to the prosecution of the underlying criminal offense.

Bill Hutton, executive director of the Minnesota Sheriffs’ Association, said seizing contraband, money, and vehicles suspected of being connected to criminal activity is “a good tool to disrupt crime.” Without having that tool, he said, those assets stay in the hands of criminals and can allow them to continue their criminal activities.

Rep. Jack Considine Jr. (DFL-Mankato) said he appreciated the concerns, but noted there is also an inherent conflict of interest in the process, because law enforcement agencies often use money generated by seized property to fund their departments or buy new equipment.

Other provisions in the bill

The bill proposes to allocate $13.27 million to the Department of Human Rights, which would allow it to hire 17 additional full-time employees, 13 of whom would staff new regional offices in Bemidji, Duluth, Rochester and Worthington.

The Guardian ad Litem Board would receive $44.45 million over the biennium, with $8.65 million of that to be spent on new positions to maintain compliance with federal and state mandates.

Language from HF10 is included in the bill, even though it was previously passed by the House. That bill would strengthen protections against sexual harassment. It awaits committee action in the Senate.

Also included is HF745 that would prohibit marriages for individuals under 18. It, too, was passed by the House and awaits Senate action.

Other notable provisions would:

  • create a Legislative Commission on Intelligence and Technology;
  • reduce or waive fines and fees for traffic, parking and minor criminal violations based on financial hardship;
  • appropriate $5 million in the biennium to the Supreme Court to establish a cybersecurity program; and
  • establish and fund a cooperative divorce program in the Bureau of Mediation Services.

What’s in the bill?

The following are selected bills that have been incorporated in part or in whole into the omnibus judiciary finance bill:

 


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