With almost entire state’s judiciary on 2014 ballot, Kentucky judicial campaign public financing bill up for discussion

Back in December before the session started, I noted a Kentucky bill (HB 21) that would have established a clean judicial elections fund for use in races for the state’s  Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, Circuit Court, or  District Court. The bill would have permitted the Supreme Court to require members of the Kentucky Bar Association to submit an annual fixed amount not to exceed $25 to be dedicated to the clean judicial elections fund. It went into the House Elections, Constitutional Amendments & Intergovernmental Affairs Committee and went no further.

One of the two main sponsors, Jim Wayne, will be discussing the bill with  a local chapter of the League of Women Voters on April 25 (h/t Gavel Grab). Along with him will be Jefferson Circuit Judge Fred Cowan, former state attorney general and also a former state representative.

2014 is going to be a critical year for judicial elections in the state. The state’s supreme court serves staggered 8 year terms. As a result,under normal conditions the Supreme Court cannot be overturned in a single judicial election. However, this is not a sure-thing; due to vacancies, 5 of the 7 justices were up in 2006.

While such a (potential) overturning of the state’s supreme court in 2006 was an accident of timing, the same potential exists in the lower courts by design. Because of a lack of staggered terms, in 2014, all 14 Court of Appeals, 146 Circuit Court, and 116 District Court judges will be on the ballot.

Judicial Retirement Plans/Pensions 2011: Southern States

Alabama HB 414 Provides for increases in employee contributions for retirement to Judicial Retirement Fund:  7.25% of salary (May 2011 – October 2011); 8.4% (October 2011 – October 2012); 9% (October 2012 onward).

Florida HB 1139 & SB 290 Provides after July 2011, all judges/justices are to receive judicial retirement credit of 2% (currently 3.33%) of average final compensation for each year of creditable service as a judge/justice.

Florida HB 1405 Changes employer contribution rates for judges/justices from 20.65% to 7.26%. Reduces the disability rate for justices and judges to one third of his or her monthly compensation. AMENDED: Changes employer contribution rates for judges/justices from 20.65% to 15.19%. Establishes additional employer contribution rates for the purpose of funding the unfunded actuarial liabilities: 0.39% (effective July 2011) and 12.05% (effective July 2012). Removes reduction and maintains the current disability benefit for justices and judges.

Georgia HB 250 Provides Georgia Judicial Retirement System member who rejected survivor’s benefits may elect such benefits by paying the actuarial cost. For those becoming members allows one-time election to convert the retirement allowance otherwise payable to him or her into a modified retirement allowance of equivalent actuarial value and designate a natural person to receive. Provides for the event of death or divorce of member of system and for the payment of the remainder of a member’s accumulated contributions.

Georgia HB 344 Provides juvenile court judges and other members of Georgia Judicial Retirement System may obtain creditable service for prior service as a full-time associate juvenile court judge.

Georgia HB 533 Permits transfer of funds from the Employees’ Retirement System of Georgia to the Georgia Judicial Retirement System by judges and to obtain creditable service. Expands transfer of funds authority to include juvenile court judges.

Georgia HB 542 Permits transfer of funds from the Georgia Judicial Retirement System to the Employees’ Retirement System of Georgia and to obtain creditable service. Expands transfer of funds authority to include juvenile court judges.

Kentucky HB 480 ORIGINAL: Requires members of the Judicial Form Retirement System and other specified retirement systems who are not subject to legislative or judicial branch code of ethics shall be subject to the executive branch code of ethics. Requires the audit of the Judicial Form Retirement System by the Auditor of Public Accounts at least once every five years and require the system to pay all costs of the audit. Prohibits members of the Judicial Form Retirement System from serving more than three consecutive terms of office on the board and prohibits the board chairman from serving more than six consecutive years as chairman. Prohibits assets of the Judicial Form Retirement System from being used to pay placement agents. Requires the Judicial Form Retirement System to make system expenditures and employee salaries available on a Web site. Establishes conflict-of-interest provisions applicable to trustees and employees of the Kentucky Judicial Form Retirement System. AMENDED: Deletes measures affecting the Judicial Form Retirement System board term limits, board chair term limits, expand or establish conflicts of interest requirements for board members and employees of the board; require the Auditor of Public Accounts to conduct the system financial audit.

Kentucky SB 2 Closes Judicial Retirement Plan to new members effective July 1, 2012. Allows those in Judicial Retirement Plan with less than 5 years of service to transfer their membership and account balance to the Public Employees Retirement System.

Maryland SB 6 Provides that, on or after July 1, 2011, an individual not already a member of the Judges’ Retirement System may not join.

Maryland SB 735 Provides that, on or after July 1, 2011, an individual not already a member of the Judges’ Retirement System may not join.

Mississippi HB 464 & SB 2154 Includes all remuneration or amounts paid (except mileage allowance) to Justices of the Supreme Court and Judges of the Court of Appeals as “earned compensation” for retirement fund purposes.

Oklahoma HB 1005 Creates the Task Force on Pension Benefit Funding and Security to examine Judges and Justice Retirement System and other systems.

Oklahoma HB 1006 Creates Task Force on Pension Benefit Funding and Security to examine judge’s retirement system and other retirement systems.

Oklahoma HB 1010 AS AMENDED: Modifies provisions related to normal retirement age for members entering the Uniform Retirement System for Justices and Judges on or after January 1, 2012. Eliminates the provision whereby a member with 8 years of judicial service may retire when the sum of their age and years of service equals or exceeds 80. Decreases the multiplier used to calculate the retirement benefit for members entering  on or after January 1, 2012 from 4% to 2%.

Oklahoma HB 2057 Prohibits cost of living adjustment for Uniform Retirement System for Justices and Judges unless system has a funded ratio which equals or exceeds85%

Oklahoma HB 2132 Modifies judicial and other retirement systems funding ratios and cost of living adjustments. Changes the definition of a “nonfiscal retirement bill” by removing the provision that allows a cost-of-living increase to be considered nonfiscal. Stipulates that any retirement bill having a fiscal impact is subject to the statutory requirements related to concurrent funding.

Oklahoma SB 53 Eliminates provision allowing up to five years of prior military service to be entered as credit towards the Uniform Retirement System for Justices and Judges.

Oklahoma SB 310 Creates the Uniform Retirement System for Justices and Judges Reform Act of 2011 (placeholder).

Oklahoma SB 311 Creates the Uniform Retirement System for Justices and Judges Reform Act of 2011 (placeholder).

Oklahoma SJR 19 (Constitutional Amendment) Requires the Uniform Retirement System for Justices and Judges to have a funded ratio which equals or exceeds 90%.

South Carolina HB 3568 & SB 531 Closes state retirement system for judges and solicitors to future judges and requires they enroll in state’s retirement investment plan instead.

Tennessee HB 1622SB 1498 Revises retirement provisions for general sessions judges from Group 1 to Group 4 level.

Texas HB 390 & SB 1223 Modifies service retirement annuity for appellate judges under the Judicial Retirement System Plan Two.

Citing Heller, Illinois legislators consider explicitly permitting judges to carry concealed firearms into courthouses

The U.S. Supreme Court decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, which specifically found an individual right to keep and bear arms, has lead to a massive review of state statutes as they pertain to firearms. Illinois is no exception: it was the case of McDonald v. Chicago that applied Heller to the states via the 14th Amendment. For judges on a more personal level, however, Heller and McDonald may mean more discretion in carrying their own firearms into their courts.

At present, Illinois law and rules of court are relatively silent on whether judges explicitly may (or may not) bring firearms into courthouses or courtroom. The only apparently relevant statute is 720 ILCS 5/24-1. Sections (a) and (b) define the offense of unlawful use of weapons and provide for sentences depending on the particular actions. (a)(4)-(9) in particular deal with the carrying of firearms.

Section 720 ILCS 5/24-1(c) however provides enhanced sentences for carrying a firearm in public places, such as parks and courthouses (defined as “any building that is used by the Circuit, Appellate, or Supreme Court of this State for the conduct of official business.”). Illinois, unlike most states, does not provide elsewhere that such courthouse restrictions do not apply to judges.

HB 1403 and SB 2150, however, would modify the restrictions. Concealed firearms permits would not allow a person to carry into “Any courthouse solely occupied by the Circuit, Appellate, or Supreme Court or a courtroom of any of those courts, or court proceeding.” However “nothing in this Section shall preclude a judge, or State’s Attorney holding a concealed firearms permit, from carrying a concealed firearm within a courthouse.” (emphasis added)

Surrounding states take slightly different tacks with respect to courthouse carrying.

Missouri (§ 571.107 R.S.Mo.) bans firearms generally (and in the same section specifically exempts judges from the ban) in “Any courthouse solely occupied by the circuit, appellate or supreme court, or any courtrooms, administrative offices, libraries or other rooms of any such court whether or not such court solely occupies the building in question…The.. supreme court… may by rule..prohibit or limit the carrying of concealed firearms by endorsement holders in that portion of a building owned, leased or controlled by that unit of government.”

Kentucky’s (KRS § 237.110) has a similar clause banning generally the carrying of a firearm  in “Any courthouse, solely occupied by the Court of Justice courtroom, or court proceeding.” but then (KRS § 237.020) exempts active, retired, and senior status justices and judges with a handgun permit. In fact, Kentucky active, retired, and senior staus judges with a permit may carry “at all times and at all locations within the Commonwealth of Kentucky” exception detention facilities, which specifically “does not include courtrooms, facilities, or other premises used by the Court of Justice or administered by the Administrative Office of the Courts.”

Illinois HB 1403 is in the House Agriculture & Conservation Committee while SB 2150 is currently in the Senate Assignments Committee awaiting designation to a subject matter committee.

Special Edition on Court Funding

The American Bar Association Task Force on Preservation of the Justice System will be holding its inaugural meeting in Atlanta today. The task force is set to address “the severe underfunding of our justice system, depletion of resources, and the courts’ struggle to render their constitutional function and provide access to justice for countless Americans.

This special edition of Gavel to Gavel looks at just some of the ways state legislatures have proposed funding courts in the last several years.

The regular, weekly edition of Gavel to Gavel will appear Thursday.

Kentucky joins Maryland in considering an end to its Judges’ Retirement system

I noted earlier this month that Maryland is considering closing the door to any future entrants for its Judges’ Retirement System. Kentucky, which has been in session since January 4, has moved swiftly to do the same. SB 2 of 2011 closes the state’s Judicial Retirement Plan to new members effective July 1, 2012. The bill allows those in the Judicial Retirement Plan with less than 5 years of service to transfer their membership and account balance to the newly-created Public Employees Retirement System, a 401(k)-style retirement plan (as opposed to the current defined benefit system, h/t Courier-Journal). All future judges would have no choice put to join the new System. The bill went from introduced to committee approved in the first three days of session (January 4-7) and is currently on the Senate floor.

KY: Paying for more court staff with a fee on the homeless?

With the next legislative year expected to be the worst yet for operating expenses and long term debt, state legislators are scrambling to address increasing homelessness (from foreclosures or otherwise) and ways to pay for courts. One proposal, filed earlier this month in Kentucky as SB 26 would combine the two in an interesting fashion by adding a new statute (KRS 186.531(1)(f)(3)(a)) to read:

The cost of operators’ licenses and permits shall be as follows…fee for an identification card for a person who does not have a fixed, permanent address shall be four dollars ($4), two dollars ($2) of which shall be used to cover the Transportation Cabinet’s cost of equipment and supplies, and two dollars ($2) of which shall be an administrative fee of the circuit clerk for issuing the card that shall be deposited by the Administrative Office of the Courts into a trust and agency account for the circuit clerks and used for the purposes of hiring additional deputy clerks and providing salary adjustment to deputy clerks. (emphasis added)

The prefiled bill has yet to be referred to a committee.

KY: Public financing for judicial elections?

Perhaps in anticipation of an expected 2012 Supreme Court election in the state, or as a reaction to judicial elections in other states, the Kentucky legislature will be considering a bill (HB 21) this year to create a public financing system for all judges in the state, paid for in part by a $25 annual assessment on all members of the Kentucky Bar Association. If adopted, Kentucky’s public financing system for judicial races might be the most expansive in the nation. Similar programs in Wisconsin, North Carolina, and New Mexico are limited to appellate courts only. A fourth program (West Virginia) adopted in 2010 is limited to only the state’s 2012 Supreme Court race.

Judicial Retirement Plans/Pensions: Southern States

Georgia HB 202 Authorizes the boards of all public retirement systems operating under Title 47 of O.C.G.A to adopt any rules which are required to meet the necessary federal compliance standards. It requires all systems to comply with mandatory distribution requirements that are included in the Internal Revenue Code. Clarifies provisions relating to rollovers from public retirement systems to other qualified plans, and revises language relating to maximum benefits payable to ensure the language is consistent with the Internal Revenue Code.

Georgia HB 210 Amends provisions relating to membership in the Georgia Judicial Retirement System. Clarifies that certain attorney‘s employed by the office of Legislative Counsel or the Department of Law on June 30, 2005, shall retain all rights and obligations as exist on that day. Those in this group shall be subject to all provisions of this chapter applicable to solicitors-general of the state courts, and Employer contributions shall be paid by respective employers under such Code sections.

Georgia HB 452 Provides that members of the Georgia Judicial Retirement System who become members on or after July 1, 2009, not be entitled to receive any postretirement benefit adjustments.

Georgia SB 109 Provides for each of the following Councils to pay their respective employer contributions for retirement: Superior Court Judges, State Court Judges, Juvenile Court Judges and the Prosecuting Attorneys. Requires  that each of these Councils be authorized, and directed to pay from funds appropriated or otherwise available in additional amount equal to the 5% contribution of the member plus an additional 20% so that the state contribution is in accordance with the Employees’ Retirement System of Georgia

Georgia SB 177 Provides that appellate court judges who become members of the Employees’ Retirement System of Georgia, and persons who become members of the Georgia Judicial Retirement System on or after July 1, 2009, not be entitled to Survivors benefits.

Kentucky HB 182 Permits the Judicial Form Retirement System board of trustees to promulgate administrative regulations to conform with federal statutes and regulations and to meet the qualification requirements under 26 U.S.C. Section 401(a).

Kentucky HB 289 Judicial Retirement Plan to honor qualified domestic relations orders if the orders meet the requirements established by the retirement systems or plan and by these sections

North Carolina HB 1507 & SB 703 Permits assets of Consolidated Judicial Retirement System and systems to may be invested in securities traded on a public securities exchange or market organized and regulated pursuant to the laws of the jurisdiction of such exchange or market (previously limited to “preferred or common stock”) . Signed into law by governor 6/11/09.

North Carolina HB 649 & SB 691 Specifies Treasurer’s responsibilities and duties regarding Consolidated Judicial Retirement System and other retirement systems. Signed into law by Governor 7/10/09.

Oklahoma HB 1110 (2009) Requires Oklahoma Public Employees Retirement System deliver two reports of the fiscal activities of  the State Judicial Retirement Fund for the fiscal year to the Legislative Service Bureau. House and Senate conference committee unable to come to agreement 5/27/09.

Oklahoma HB 2357 (2010) Requires Oklahoma Public Employees Retirement System deliver two reports of the fiscal activities of  the State Judicial Retirement Fund for the fiscal year to the Legislative Service Bureau. Approved by full House 2/10/10. Approved with Senate amendment by full Senate 3/29/10. To House to concur with amendment.

Oklahoma SB 1059 Makes various modifications to employer contribution rates for Uniform Retirement System for Justices and Judges. Requires certain funds be transferred to the Judicial Retirement Fund.  Approved by full Senate 3/9/09. Died in House.

Oklahoma SB 212 Specifies that the funded ratio for the State Judicial Retirement Fund should be at or near 90%  (previously 100%) or be receiving sufficient contributions to amortize any unfunded liability of the fund according to the adopted amortization schedule.  Modifies the Board of Trustees ability to raise employer contribution rates. Signed into law by Governor 5/26/09.

Virginia HB 1189 & SB 232 Changes member contributions for those under the Judicial Retirement System or other specified plans. Institutes a new service weight schedule based on the judge’s age at the time he or she is appointed or elected to an original term commencing July 1, 2010 Changes the requirements for unreduced early retirement benefits from 50 years of age and 30 years of creditable service, to the “Rule of 90” (combination of age and service equals 90). Approved by House and Senate 3/11/10. To Governor for approval.

Updates: Nebraska and Kentucky

Nebraska’s LB 727 permits a retired judge who agrees to serve a minimum number of temporary duty days per year as set by the Supreme Court to receive a stipend to be set by the Court. The bill was denoted a “Speaker priority bill” on February 22.

Meanwhile, Kentucky’s HB 411, which would have required that construction management fees for courthouse construction be determined by competitive bidding, has been withdrawn.