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House panel delivers favorable judgment to omnibus judiciary finance bill

(House Photography file photo)
(House Photography file photo)

Judges, public defenders, and civil legal services attorneys are closer to getting pay raises.

That’s because the $138.3 million omnibus judiciary finance bill was approved, as amended by a delete-all amendment, by the House Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Committee Thursday and sent to the House Ways and Means Committee.

Sponsored by Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn (DFL-Roseville), the committee chair, HF3920 would also make supplemental appropriations to the Department of Human Rights and the Guardian ad Litem Board.

[MORE: View the spreadsheet]

But it was the money the bill would send to judges, public defenders, and civil legal services attorneys that was the focus of Becker-Finn’s remarks to the committee.

“This is not a Cadillac bill,” she said, referring to some reports the money is a huge windfall to the state judicial system.

Rather, she said, the bill would take steps to correct years of underfunding the judicial branch that has left it unable to fulfill its constitutional duties. “Adequate funding to reach basic functionality is not a luxury.”

The 10-7 vote to approve the bill fell along party lines.

Rep. Peggy Scott (R-Andover) said the bill had many good elements, but deserved a “no” vote because it contains many non-essential funding requests.

An amendment successfully offered by Becker-Finn made three changes to the bill as it was first presented in committee April 5.

It inserts language from HF833, which would modify postconviction relief for a person in immigration removal proceedings, and HF2257, which would change how fees collected by the Ramsey County District Court are distributed within the county.

It also specifies that a pay increase of up to 6% for judges would only be available using money left over after judicial staff receive a 6% salary increase.

An amendment unsuccessfully offered by Scott would have shifted funding for some of the court system’s COVID-19 response efforts and public defender programs from the General Fund to State Fiscal Recovery Funds.

The committee previously approved an omnibus judiciary policy bill without any fiscal impacts, sending it to the House Floor on March 31.

Sen. Warren Limmer (R-Maple Grove) sponsors the companion bill, SF2673, which awaits action by the full Senate.

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