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Multi-county public defender bill before Senate committee

January 21, 2019

A Senate bill that would allow the Indiana Public Defender Commission to create guidelines for a multi-county public defender’s office will be heard by a committee Tuesday.

The Senate Correction and Criminal Law Committee will hear Senate Bill 488, which would, among other things, authorize county executives to adopt an ordinance to enter into an interlocal agreement with one or more counties to provide legal defense services to indigent persons. The agreement also would provide for the administration of those services through a joint public defender board.

The legislation aligns with the Commission’s 2019 reform initiatives announced last fall, which sought to address issues highlighted against Indiana’s indigent defense system. That 2018 report issued by the Indiana Task Force on Public Defense prompted the Commission’s reform efforts with an overarching goal of making all 92 counties compliant with minimum public defense standards.

SB 488 would address one of the task force’s immediate action priorities of allowing multi-county public defense offices. In its 2019 reform initiative, the Commission noted that many small and rural counties experience difficulty finding qualified attorneys to appoint for public defender cases. Likewise, they struggle to obtain sufficient support services such as investigators and social workers.

Authors of the bill include Sens. Mike Young, R-Indianapolis; Eric Koch, R-Bedford; and Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis. The bill will be heard by the Senate Corrections and Criminal Law Committee at 10 a.m. Tuesday.

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