MTPR

Legislature Hears Proposed Changes To Montana's Public Defender Office

Jan 9, 2017

A bi-partisan task force of lawmakers is proposing a package of 7 bills this legislative session aiming to improve the work of Montana’s Public Defender Office.

Two of those bills got their first hearing Monday in the House Judiciary committee.

They’re both sponsored by Missoula Democrat Kimberly Dudik, who served as chair of the State Public Defender Task Force over the last year.

One of Dudik’s bills would appropriate a $150,000 to study public defenders' caseloads.

Dudik says there hasn’t been enough research into improving the public defender's office since it was created over a decade ago:

"The Public Defender system in Montana has been around since about 2005 and it hasn't been comprehensively looked at from top to bottom, even though things have changed in the law since its formation."

Dudik's other bill introduced Monday would allow the state to not appoint an attorney to an absent father in some cases of child abuse and neglect. She said this could save the state about $1 million every 10 years.

No one gave testimony against either bill proposal during Monday's hearing.

The Public Defender Commission says it will endorse all seven bills that came out of the Public Defender Task Force.