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Court budget cuts still hanging in the balance

With the budget focus still on education cuts and new Medicaid proposals, it’s easy to forget that plenty of other issues remain unresolved in the General Assembly.

Here’s a quick recap of proposed budget provisions affecting the courts and justice system.

Funding for the Administrative Office of the Court  Both the Senate and the House take an ax to system-wide funding of the courts. The Senate cuts technology funding to the courts by $3.7 million and the remaining AOC administrative appropriation by an additional $1.5 million. AOC fares only slightly better in the House budget, which directs cuts of $4.95 million without specifying where.

Cuts to Family Courts  The initial House budget guts Family Courts, eliminating $3 million in funding and 36 positions, a proposal in neither the Senate nor Governor’s budget. The bodies are still in disagreement over that proposal, though the House has since reduced the cuts to just Family Court administrators, eliminating $962,910 and 11 positions.

Legal Aid  TheSenate proposed cutting the court fees passed through the state bar to Legal Services to the tune of $1.8 million. The text providing for these cuts does not appear in the most recent compromise draft of the budget (as of June 13). Both bodies eliminate a $670,000 Access to Civil Justice grant to Legal Aid.

Public Defender  Both the House and Senate cut funds for indigent defense administrative costs, the House by $466,380, the Senate by $233,190 (including the elimination of the Public Defender Administrator).

State Bureau of Investigation/Crime Lab  Both bodies agree on transferring the SBI to Public Safety, but the Senate also wants to transfer the Crime Lab to DPS.

Three judge courts  The Senate also proposed substantive changes to the handling of constitutional challenges to state laws, requiring that all such cases be heard in Wake County by a panel of three judges selected from different parts of the state by the Chief Justice (similar to the process with redistricting challenges).

The Senate would also require that trial court orders temporarily blocking enforcement of a state law challenged as unconstitutional be automatically stayed (meaning that the challenged law remains enforceable while appeals are pursued).  And any such order would be directly appealable to the state Supreme Court – bypassing the Court of Appeals.

The text of these proposals does not appear in the most recent compromise draft of the budget (as of June 13).

For more on the initial Senate budget, read here.

For a further comparison of the Senate and House budgets, read here.

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