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Omnibus judiciary bill would provide $1 billion for courts, legal services, human rights department

The bottom line in the omnibus judiciary finance bill is a $1.08 billion funding request for the 2022-23 biennium, which would be a $49 million increase from the current biennium.

HF1030, amended by a delete-all amendment, would fund Minnesota courts, civil legal services, the Guardian ad Litem Board, Tax Court, Uniform Laws Commission, Board on Judicial Standards, Board of Public Defense and Human Rights Department.

The House Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Committee walked through the omnibus bill and heard public testimony Tuesday, then held it over.

Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn (DFL-Roseville), the committee chair and bill sponsor, said amendments would be considered and mark-up would begin Wednesday.

The bill would fund the four court branches as follows:

  • $647.4 million for district courts;
  • $125 million for the Supreme Court;
  • $26.7 million for the Court of Appeals; and
  • $24.7 million for the tax court.

Civil Legal Services, which provides legal services for low-income defendants in civil matters, would be funded with a $35.1 million appropriation, an increase of $5.7 million. The Public Defense Board, which represents low-income defendants in criminal trials, would get $222.2 million — a nearly $20 million bump.

The Guardian ad Litem Board would receive $45.1 million, the Board of Judicial Standards would receive $1.2 million, and the Uniform Laws Commission would get $200,000.

[MORE: View the spreadsheet]

A 3% pay increase, funded by $1.1 million in fiscal year 2023, would go to court system employees, but not judges.

That lack of funding for judges was “concerning” to Supreme Court Chief Justice Lorie Gildea.

“Attracting and retaining skilled judges is more important than ever, as we ask our judges to adapt to the challenges of hearing cases in online hearings and socially-distanced courtrooms, and help to bring down our statewide case backlog to ensure timely access to justice,” she said in written testimony.

Other notable provisions would appropriate:

  • $1 million to boost courthouse security;
  • $800,000 to increase salaries of courtroom language interpreters; and
  • $375,000 to fund cybersecurity improvements in the judicial branch.

The bill proposes to allocate $11.4 million to the Department of Human Rights. That figure includes $695,000 in new funding to reduce the backlog in investigation cases at the department, an issue identified by the Office of the Legislative Auditor in a 2020 report.

Policy provisions 

Minnesota’s forfeiture system would be amended to significantly limit what money and other property can be seized by police when investigating crimes.

The bill would require family law judges to appoint legal representation for all financially eligible low-income parents, guardians, and custodians who desire counsel prior to the first hearing and at all stages of a child protection proceeding.

Courts would be given the discretion to reduce, waive, or offer community service in lieu of the $75 state surcharge on traffic tickets in cases of financial hardship and require the court to consider ability to pay before imposing a sentence that includes fines, fees or surcharges.

County attorneys would be required to collect and report data to the attorney general's office regarding the use of jailhouse witnesses and the nature of any cooperation agreements offered to them.

Health plans providing coverage for anatomical gifts and organ transplants would be prohibited from denying eligibility or coverage for a covered person’s disability, or penalizing or dropping their coverage because of the person’s disability.

Other provisions in the bill would:

  • give notaries the power to perform a civil marriage;
  • allow marriage certificate applications to be filed remotely; and
  • prevent employers, including labor unions and employment agencies, from requesting a job applicant’s pay history.

Letters of support for the omnibus bill came from the Minnesota Council on Disability, Justice Action Network, Minnesota Asset Building Coalition, and Housing Justice Center, among others.

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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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