A few highlights from the House budget on Justice and Public Safety

The House’s base budget for Justice and Public Safety was unveiled this morning at an appropriations meeting.

Committee members are still working through the amendment process and they will reconvene at 12:15 p.m. Below are a few highlights from the budget and this morning’s meeting.

  • Similar to the Senate’s budget, the House budget will fund an opioid pilot program. It appropriates $250,000 this year and next for the Department of Public Safety in conjunction with the City of Wilmington to develop and implement a pilot project to establish a “Quick Response Team” to address the needs of opiate and heroin overdose victims who are not getting follow-up treatment.
  • Eliminates litter crews and road squads — the program was funded by receipts from the Department of Transportation and they will no longer be supporting the program, according to the budget. JPS Appropriations Committee Chair, Rep. Allen McNeill (R-Moore, Randolph) said everyone fought to keep that part of the budget but DOT ultimately won. He said private contractors can clean up the litter cheaper than inmates and that it will create more private sector jobs. Rep. Charles Graham (D-Robeson) said he didn’t understand how that could be, and pushed further with more questions. McNeill cut off questions on the topic and said they’d have to wait for the full appropriations meeting to proceed.
  • The budget would provide funding for the State Crime Laboratory to outsource testing of sexual assault evidence collection kits in the custody or control of local law enforcement. General Assembly staff couldn’t answer if there was a need to do this or if it would create delay for victims.
  • There weren’t any legislative changes to the Indigent Defense Services Budget, but a provision would require the agency, along with the Administrative Office of the Courts, to study and develop specific statewide standards for determining indigency for defendants. The study shall include a review of the practices of other states regarding determination of indigency, analysis of cost-effectiveness of alternatives to the status quo and implementation plans for the standards agreed upon.
  • The budget provides over $2.7 million recurring funds to add 37 new assistant district attorneys. It’s unclear though, exactly which counties would get those positions, and a budget provision eliminates a requirement that legislators consult the workload formula established through the National Center for State Courts.
  • The budget includes a provision that would make it nearly impossible for judges to waive court costs for defendants. Rep. Joe John (D-Wake) and Rep. David Rogers (R-Burke, Rutherford) pointed out the impracticality of the provision, and McNeill said it was to try reign in judges waiving fees across the state (though it should be noted only about 8 percent of criminal cases across the state result in a waiver of court fees). The provision would require the court to provide notice to government entities directly affected by the remission or waiver of all or part of the order of court costs at least 15 days prior to a hearing. John said the provision would slow courts to a grinding halt. Legislative staff said a study had not been done to see what effect it would have on the courts.
  • Another provision in the budget would eliminate access to civil justice funds. That means that $1.50 of each court fee collected by the State Treasurer would no longer go to general legal services, and 95 cents of each fee would no longer go to programs that represent domestic violence victims. This provision moved through the first part of the meeting without discussion.
  • The budget does not eliminate emergency recall judges like the Senate’s did, but it does limit the number of them.

Stay tuned to Progressive Pulse for amendment updates as the meeting continues on.

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