Bipartisan Support For More Montana Judges; Uncertainty For Other Services
A bipartisan group of lawmakers agreed today to fund new judges for Montana’s burdened court system. But, as lawmakers focus on cutting spending statewide, the future of other services in courts are uncertain.As Montana faces a budget shortfall, due to declines in coal, oil and gas sales, spending increases are a hard sell this legislative session. That could leave the state’s Judiciary Branch with only part of their funding ask, for the next two years, being filled by the state legislature.
In a unanimous vote, a budget committee approved funding for two of the five new judges asked for by the court system. Those judges will be placed in Billings and Missoula, in 2018.
The budget committee also voted, this time along party lines, to not fund programs supporting court appointed advocates for kids in cases of child abuse and neglect. That funding would also help pay for jury services in district courts.
Randy Brodehl, the Republican chair of the budget committee, says he understands the importance of the programs, but says he couldn’t vote in support of the funds, yet.
"I think I would like to give the agency a little more time to fund this, and see if they can come up with some options," says Brodehl. "Down the road if the agency can’t find (the money), we might have to find some money."
Brodehl says if the Judiciary Branch can’t find a way to fund those services, lawmakers may need to pull that money from some of the other budgets they’re reviewing, which includes the Department of Justice, Department of Corrections, and the Office of State Public Defender.
A separate bill currently moving through the legislature is asking lawmakers to support funding all five of the judges, which Judiciary Branch says it needs to meet rising caseloads in district courts. As lawmakers continue to search for ways to pass a trimmed, and balanced, state budget, more changes could be made to these funding requests as the legislative session continues.