Illinois becomes sixth U.S. legislature in 2014 to consider bill for drug testing judges; this version includes testing for alcohol as well

Last week Illinois became the sixth U.S. legislature (five states + 1 territory) to consider a bill to mandate drug testing judges. Under HB 6313 of 2014 a person may not serve as a judge, or return to service as a judge after testing positive, until they first provide a “clean” drug and alcohol test (“a blood alcohol concentration of less than .02”). For judges currently serving, that means a drug/alcohol test once a year. For those judges who tested positive, it means a mandatory substance abuse program plus drug/alcohol testing 9 times a year for 3 years after returning to service.

The other states/territories considering similar bills this year were Tennessee (discussed here), Mississippi (discussed here), Pennsylvania and Missouri (discussed here jointly) and the Northern Mariana Islands where the bill was passed but vetoed.

HB 6313 has been sent to the House Rules Committee.

Non-state week: Northern Mariana Islands – Drug testing for judges vetoed; courts may use abandoned funds for indigent defense

I mentioned back in the spring of 2014 here, here, and here the rash of efforts to drug test judges and other elected officials introduced in several states. At the same time, a similar bill was working its way through the Northern Mariana Islands Commonwealth Legislature. HB 18-152 would have required all “elected officials” to be randomly drug tested and the results made public; Northern Mariana Islands judges are appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate, but must stand for retention elections every 6 or 8 years. The bill was vetoed in April 2014 over concerns regarding its constitutionality. The House subsequently overrode the veto but it does not appear the Senate did so.

Other pieces of legislation affecting the courts debated in the Northern Mariana Islands Commonwealth Legislature included:

HB 18-142 Provides where the Commonwealth Judiciary is holding third party funds for longer than one year (“abandoned funds”), the Judiciary may transfer funds to special account for use by the judiciary to pay for indigent defense and pro se legal services. Signed into law 2/14/14.

HB 18-123 ORIGINAL: Grants Chief Justice power to “reprogram” (reallocate) 100% of all funds appropriated by legislature to judiciary. AMENDED:  Grants Chief Justice power to “reprogram” (reallocate) 50% of all funds appropriated by legislature to judiciary. Approved by full House 2/11/14. In Senate (no committee).

Non-state week 2014: A look at legislation affecting the non-state courts of the United States

Since its establishment in 2006 as a set of spreadsheets, Gavel to Gavel maintained itself as “A review of state legislation affecting the courts.” However, this has admitted and regrettably given short shrift to the other parts of the United States that are not states:

  1. Territory of American Samoa
  2. Territory of Guam
  3. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands
  4. Commonwealth of Puerto Rico
  5. United States Virgin Islands
  6. District of Columbia

In 2011 Gavel to Gavel began a semi-regular practice of focusing a week on these specific non-states and that practice continues for a week starting today.

Northern Mariana Islands: tax credit for lawyers representing indigent defendants; constitutional amendment to decrease number of judges

The question of how governments in general can help pay for indigent defense comes up often. In many locations, including the Northern Mariana Islands (NMI), funding for such defense is a part of the judiciary’s budget, but with cuts to the judicial and other budgets it has made payment difficult. One possible way to help alleviate the burden on the judiciary was HB 17-247, which would have converted any payments owed for indigent defense into a tax credit. The bill was referred to the House Judiciary & Governmental Operations Committee where it failed to advance before a February 10, 2012 legislative deadline.

Other proposals introduced in the last year, none of which advanced, included:

  • HB 17-248 Exempts Judiciary from requirement that 1% of all appropriated funds go to the office of the Public Auditor.
  • SLI 17-11, an amendment to the NMI Constitution to decrease the minimum number of Commonwealth Superior Court (i.e. trial court) judges from 4 judges to 3.

 

Non-state week 2012: A look at legislation affecting the non-state courts of the United States

Since its establishment in 2006 as a set of spreadsheets, Gavel to Gavel maintained itself as “A review of state legislation affecting the courts.” However, this has admitted and regrettably given short shrift to the other parts of the United States that are not states:

  1. Territory of American Samoa
  2. Territory of Guam
  3. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands
  4. Commonwealth of Puerto Rico
  5. United States Virgin Islands
  6. District of Columbia

In 2011 Gavel to Gavel began an annual practice of focusing a week on these specific non-states and that practice continues for a week starting today.

Northern Mariana Islands: legislative approval required for each new hiring in judiciary

The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, like all parts of the U.S., has been hit hard with the fiscal crisis. According a recent bill introduced in the commonwealth’s legislature, the $3.3. million appropriation to the Judiciary in October 2010 is a 44% decline from peak funding ($5.9 million) in FY 1999.

Under the terms of Section 602(a) of that October 2010 appropriation (PL 17-21) also provides:

(a) As long as work hours and wages are reduced, no vacancies shall be filled except for critical and emergency positions; provided that until a law is passed defining critical and emergency positions, said critical and emergency positions must be approved by joint approval of the legislature.

(b) In order to reduce the size of the Government, except for the Public School System, the Northern Marianas College and health care professionals of the Department of Public Health and Environmental Services, any FTE (full-time equivalent) that becomes vacant shall be eliminated…

With no law as specified by 602(a) having been passed, the judiciary has had to make several requests already to the legislature for staffing:

  • HJR 17-07: 1 Law Clerk. Approved by House and Senate 10/21/11.
  • HJR 17-16: 2 Deputy Courtroom Clerks. Approved by House and Senate 1/28/11.
  • HJR 17-34 / SJR17-12: 1 Law Clerk, 1 Deputy Clerk (III). Approved by House and Senate 5/13/11.
  • HJR 17-38: 2 Law Clerks for the Supreme Court; 1 Secretary to the Presiding Judge; 1 Systems Administrator for the Judicial Administration Office; 1 Computer Specialist for the Judicial Administration Office. Approved by House 6/29/11.

A possible longer term solution has been introduced.  HJR 17-22 would be a general waiver of section 602(a) as it applies to the judicial branch and other specified agencies. That joint resolution is pending in the House Judiciary & Governmental Operations Committee.

Non-state week 2011: A look at legislation affecting the non-state courts of the United States

Since its establishment in 2006 as a set of spreadsheets, Gavel to Gavel maintained itself as “A review of state legislation affecting the courts.” However, this has admitted and regrettably given short shrift to the other parts of the United States that are not states:

  1. Territory of American Samoa
  2. Territory of Guam
  3. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands
  4. Commonwealth of Puerto Rico
  5. United States Virgin Islands
  6. District of Columbia

This week will be dedicated to rectifying that oversight, starting today with a look at the Chief Justice of Guam’s state of the judiciary and his proposal to put a new form of judicial funding in the territory’s “Organic Act” (effectively, the constitution for the territory).