An Indiana Court of Appeals expansion, executing the mentally ill, and how judges find representation in mandate litigation are just a few proposals already on tap for the General Assembly to consider this session.
The day before lawmakers are set to return to Indianapolis and begin the long budget-setting session, more than 100 separate pieces of legislation have been filed and many have direct impact on the legal community.
• New district: On a recommendation from the Commission on Courts, Senate Bill 35 proposes establishing a new sixth district for Indiana's intermediate appellate court, bumping up the number of judges from 15 to 18 starting in January 2010. This would be the first new district since 1991, and would include a judge from each of the court's original three districts.
The legislation declares this an emergency act, noting a price tag of $1.3 million in the first year and $2.2 in the following two years - complete with an array of jurists, law clerks, and administrative staff that would be needed. If passed, the Judicial Nominating Commission would have to interview and recommend three candidates by November, and the governor would have the final say on who'd be appointed to the new panel.
• Mandate: Sen. Phil Boots, R-Crawfordsville, proposed Senate Bill 44 that deals with judicial mandate representation, a direct result of mandate cases the Indiana Supreme Court has ruled on in recent years and discussions this past summer about how cash-strapped communities can ill afford those legal costs. The bill would require the Indiana Attorney General to represent any court that has issued a mandate for funds for court operation or court-related functions, and the state would not be allowed to reimburse a judge for any costs related to hiring a private attorney on mandate actions.
• Death penalty: Senate Bill 22 prohibits the death penalty from being issued to anyone with a severe mental illness, and sets up a procedure to determine whether a murder defendant can be classified that way. This legislation is similar to measures proposed in the past, and comes in the wake of suggestions from a commission created in honor of the late Sen. Anita Bowser, who died in 2007 and was an advocate of death penalty legislation.
• Grandparent visitation: Senate Bill 26, authored by Sen. John Waterman, R-Shelburn, provides that a child's grandparent can seek visitation rights when a parent or guardian unreasonably denies or restricts visitation. The proposal eliminates current conditions for which grandparents can seek visitation rights.
A complete rundown of active legislation can be found online.
Aside from those issues, the General Assembly will likely spend most of its time focusing on the state's two-year budget and dealing with money issues stemming from previously passed property tax laws. Local government reform, including court changes, is expected to be a significant topic of discussion, though observers wonder how much may actually pass given the financial focus.
The Senate can file bills through Jan. 15, while the House of Representatives has until the end of January. Lawmakers have until April 29 for any action this session.