Senator wants no mandates

December 21, 2009
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Senate Joint Resolution 0002 is not likely to get the fanfare and attention that property tax caps, education, and health care will receive in the 2010 General Assembly, but if it eventually passes, it will have as much as an impact on the general community as any other issue.

SJR 0002 wants to prohibit any court established by the General Assembly – appellate or local courts – from issuing a mandate, order, or other writ requiring the state or a political subdivision of the state from spending money on the operation of any court in the state.

The resolution would alter Article 7 of the Indiana Constitution by inserting language preventing the Indiana Supreme Court, Indiana Court of Appeals, Circuit Courts, or any other court established by the legislature from ordering the state, counties, cities, or any other subdivisions of the state, to pay for court operation costs. Sen. Phil Boots, R-Crawfordsville, authored the resolution.

There’s no doubt this is a cost-savings measure that some legislators feel is necessary given the state of the economy in Indiana right now. Everyone’s looking to do more with less, but amending the constitution to prevent courts from ordering the state or county to help pay for court costs may do more harm than good.

Where will this money come from if the state or county won’t foot the bill? Courts will be forced to cut staff and hours, which will lead to an increase in a backlog of cases. If courts refuse to cut staff, will the money have to come from an increase court fees the public will have to pay?

Judicial mandates don’t happen often, and they are usually used when judges believe their courts need the state or county money to keep operating at a functional level. Two of the last three that I’m aware of dealt with pay raises for court staff. The judges in these cases were worried they’d lose their staff to higher-paying jobs, especially when the staffers had been denied pay raises by the councils controlling the money.

If SJR2 passes this year, it will still have to be approved by a second General Assembly before voters have the chance to ratify the constitution.
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