Counties Off the Hook for Attorney Cost Overruns in Budget, But Conflicting Bills Still in Play

$10 million to Judiciary stands and excess costs to counties removed from budget bill . However, other legislative actions on costs are still looming. 

Budget bill conferees agreed to remove the language obligating counties to pay for any costs that exceed what has been appropriated and restricted for the appointed attorneys program.

The budget bill, SB 190, restricted $10 million in Judiciary’s budget to provide for attorney representation at an initial appearance before a District Court Commissioner. This requirement to provide representation is consistent with the holding of the Court of Appeals in DeWolfe v. Richmond. The Senate passed the bill including language that obligated counties to pay for any costs that exceed what has been appropriated and restricted upon enactment of a separate bill but complementary bill SB 1134. The House amended SB 190 to remove the SB 1134 contingency language and county obligation. House and Senate conference committee members agreed to adopt the House’s amendment. SB 190 has been passed by both chambers and is enrolled.

As the Governor did not introduced a BRFA there was no vehicle to authorize the state to charge counties for any expenditures in excess of the $10 million without specific legislation. SB 1134 was introduced to fulfill that task. SB 1134 was heard March 23 in the Judicial Proceedings Committee. MACo testified in opposition to the bill. The bill remains in committee.

An opposing bill, HB 1638, would prohibit the state from charging counties for any costs that exceed the restricted amount of funds for the program. However, that bill is still in the Rules and Executive Nominations Committee.

For more information read:

Report of the Conference Committee on SB 190 The Budget Bill

Previous coverage on Conduit Street:

Senate Funds Appointed Attorneys, Counties to Pay for Cost Overruns