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Legislative Alert: Please Contact Senators and Ask for their Support of the Magistrate Court Funding Bill—HB 643

Posted By Justin Ruen, Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Legislation co-sponsored by the Association of Idaho Cities (AIC) and the Idaho Association of Counties to provide sustainable funding for magistrate courts passed the House by a vote of 53-17-0 yesterday.  We extend our sincere appreciation to the many city officials who called and emailed legislators in support of the bill.  Your efforts were instrumental in helping to pass this legislation through the House.

House Bill 643 now heads to the Senate Judiciary & Rules Committee, where it could be heard later this week.

We ask city officials to please contact their local Senators and respectfully ask for their support of House Bill 643.

House Bill 643 is the product of a work group including city and county elected officials, as well as representatives from Idaho’s court system that met over the interim to try to find a consensus legislative solution to Idaho’s court funding challenges.

Idaho has a unified state judiciary: all judges are state employees, but the counties are responsible for providing facilities, staffing and equipment for the District and Magistrate Courts. 

The courts are currently facing a funding crisis as revenue from misdemeanor and infraction citations has declined substantially in recent years.  Many counties are at the state law levy caps for their Justice and District Court Funds and are unable to raise additional revenue through property taxes.  Counties are also facing very costly public defense reforms that will require additional funding to ensure indigent criminal defendants are afforded a legal defense that meets the requirements of the state and federal constitutions.

Cities are part of the court funding deliberations because of Idaho Code 1-2218, which provides:

“Any city in the state shall, upon order of a majority of the district judges in the judicial district, provide suitable and adequate quarters for a magistrate’s division of the district court, including the facilities and equipment necessary to make the space provided functional for its intended use, and shall provide for the staff personnel, supplies, and other expenses of the magistrate’s division.”

This law provides broad authority for judges to determine that a city will be liable for providing court facilities, equipment and staffing.  Currently, several cities voluntarily agree to provide financial support for magistrate courts in lieu of providing facilities, equipment and staffing as required by Idaho Code 1-2218.  The City of Meridian is currently in litigation with Ada County over requirements that the city provide court facilities and given the scope of the court funding challenges it seems likely that more cities would face such demands in the future.

After considering a wide range of options, the work group decided to support a proposal dedicating a portion of future revenue growth from the State Liquor Fund to provide additional court funding.  Liquor revenue has a clear nexus to courts and is a revenue source that has grown consistently.  That would satisfy the need for court funding and allow for the repeal of Idaho Code 1-2218. 

The legislation contains the following provisions:

·         Each city would forego 3.66% increments of growth in State Liquor Fund revenues for the five years of implementation.  Each county would forego 2% increments of growth in the State Liquor Fund.  State Liquor Fund revenues typically grow between 5-6% a year.

·         The State of Idaho would divert $6 of court fees from the state general fund to magistrate courts.  There is an additional $1 fee diversion to the Peace Officers Standards & Training (POST) to hold them harmless. 

·         Prevents any new cities from being ordered to provide magistrate court facilities or funding upon enactment.

·         Phases out current city magistrate court funding obligations over a five-year period beginning in fiscal year 2019 and ending in fiscal year 2023.

·         Funds will be distributed to counties through a formula with a base amount for every county and the remainder distributed by a combination of population and caseloads of municipal misdemeanor and infraction charges.

·         Funds will be deposited into a newly created county magistrate court fund to ensure funds are dedicated to magistrate court operations.

·         Fully repeals Idaho Code 1-2218 on July 1, 2023.

HB 643 will benefit cities by repealing Idaho Code 1-2218 and providing certainty about cities’ financial obligations for magistrate court funding. 

The bill will benefit counties and the courts by providing sustainable funding for our court system.

The bill also reflects the fact that the State of Idaho has an important stake in the magistrate court system.  The Idaho State Police issue misdemeanor and infraction citations that create workload for the magistrate courts.  It is also important to recognize that most city and county citations are enforcing state laws, not local ordinances, and that the State of Idaho benefits from these enforcement efforts.

For these reasons, the Association of Idaho Cities and the Idaho Association of Counties strongly support House Bill 643 and we respectfully ask legislators to support this important bill.

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