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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Lawmakers fund 5 new positions for the Office of Public Defender

Lawmakers in charge of outlining state spending for public safety on Friday declined to fully fund a request for more public defenders.

The state Office of Public Defender, which provides legal counsel for Montanans who can’t afford it, requested funding for 20 new staff, including lawyers, investigators and administrative assistants. State lawmakers have voted to fund 5 new staff positions over the next two years instead.

Republican Rep. Bill Mercer of Billings, the chair of the committee, said the office could do more to decrease expenses.

“I do think that the office and the Department of Administration need to evaluate the ability to consolidate OPD in locations where there are multiple addresses, in a way that is going to economize.”

The subcommittee of lawmakers did approve additional staff funding for the public defender's office in Yellowstone County, which was previously sanctioned by the district court there for inadequate staffing.

The budget process is far from over. The subcommittee’s work will move onto the House budgeting committee for consideration, before the full House gets a chance to make changes.

Corrected: February 20, 2023 at 3:07 PM MST
An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the number of new staff positions funded by a legislative subcommittee on appropriations. The number of new staff positions funded is five. We regret the error.
Shaylee covers state government and politics for Montana Public Radio. Please share tips, questions and concerns at 406-539-1677 or  
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