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Governor likely to soon get St. Joe judges bill

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Gov. Mitch Daniels will likely receive legislation today aimed primarily at scrapping judicial merit selection in St. Joseph County and creating a new Indiana Court of Appeals panel starting 2011.

After about a week's worth of negotiating on the legislation, a four-person conference committee filed a report Tuesday evening on House Bill 1491, legislation that would change how St. Joseph Superior judges are chosen. The county switched to merit selection in 1973. The bill would put in place a non-partisan election system where voters would choose the judges for a six-year term, and bill author Rep. Craig Fry, R-Mishawka, said the top two primary candidates would be put on the general election ballot in November.

The bill would also create a sixth Court of Appeals panel starting in mid-2011 -- the Senate-approved bill called for that panel to begin Jan. 1, 2011, but the conference committee agreed to push that back to July 1, 2011 so it won't impact the next two-year budget. During the conference committee, lawmakers also made it clear that the bill's provision capping and restricting judicial campaign contributions at $10,000 "from all sources" would not apply to individuals -- something legislators aren't allowed to restrict.

This bill also adds language about court interlocal agreements, which was originally entailed in House Bill 1703 but died without a Senate vote this session.

House conferees were Fry and Rep. Jackie Walorski, R-Elkhart, and Senate conferees were Sens. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, and Jim Arnold, D-LaPorte. Technical advisors were Reps. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington; Charlie Brown, D-Gary; Ralph Foley, R-Martinsville; and Eric Koch, R-Bedford; and Sens. Richard Bray, R-Martinsville and Tim Lanane, D-Anderson.

Lawmakers were scheduled to approve that compromise bill today - the final day of the regular legislative session - and forward it to the governor for consideration. An online bill-watch tool set up by the governor's office shows that Gov. Daniels hadn't received HB 1491 by early afternoon.

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