Legislature(2017 - 2018)BARNES 124


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* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
Moved CSHB 267(CRA) Out of Committee
Moved HB 269 Out of Committee
Moved HB 298 Out of Committee
-- Public Testimony --
+ Bills Previously Heard/Scheduled TELECONFERENCED
             HB 298-NUMBER OF SUPERIOR COURT JUDGES                                                                         
8:02:10 AM                                                                                                                    
CO-CHAIR PARISH announced that the  first order of business would                                                               
be  HOUSE  BILL NO.  298,  "An  Act  relating  to the  number  of                                                               
superior  court  judges  in  the  first  judicial  district;  and                                                               
providing for an effective date."                                                                                               
8:02:49 AM                                                                                                                    
NANCY  MEADE,  General  Counsel, Administrative  Offices,  Alaska                                                               
Court System, testified  during the hearing on HB  298, on behalf                                                               
of the  House Rules Committee,  sponsor by request of  the Alaska                                                               
Court System.   She stated that HB 298 would  increase the number                                                               
of Alaska Superior  Court judges by one, and  that increase would                                                               
be in  the First  Judicial Court  District, in  Southeast Alaska.                                                               
The bill  carries a zero fiscal  note.  This statutory  change is                                                               
being  proposed by  the  court system  and  is an  administrative                                                               
matter.  She  noted that the last time the  court brought forth a                                                               
request  to the  legislature was  in  2011, when  two seats  were                                                               
added  to the  Anchorage  Judicial Court  District, bringing  the                                                               
total number at that  time from 40 to 42.   She explained that AS                                                               
22.10.120 sets  the number  of Alaska  Superior Court  judges and                                                               
requires   the   Alaska   Court   System   to   get   legislative                                                               
authorization  to increase  the  number; this  is mandated  under                                                               
Article IV of the Constitution of  the State of Alaska.  She said                                                               
the same is  not true for district court judges,  a fact she said                                                               
would  become  relevant  as  she  explains  the  court's  desired                                                               
outcome under HB 298.                                                                                                           
8:05:05 AM                                                                                                                    
MS. MEADE said  the chief justice, in his state  of the judiciary                                                               
speech,  had   expressed  that  the  Juneau   Superior  Court  is                                                               
overburdened  with casework  relative to  the number  of superior                                                               
court judges, and  it has been this  way for many years.   It has                                                               
the  second-highest number  of superior  court  case filings  per                                                               
superior  court judge  in the  state; the  highest is  Anchorage.                                                               
She  said in  some  ways  it is  not  a  fair comparison  because                                                               
Anchorage has  many other  resources and  is set  up differently,                                                               
such that Anchorage  does not need another  superior court judge.                                                               
Because of Juneau's paucity of  judges, she explained, the Juneau                                                               
Superior Court  may not be  able to schedule hearings  as quickly                                                               
and written work does not get done  in a timely manner.  She said                                                               
the court has  recognized this for some time:   in 2014 and again                                                               
in 2015,  the court  had a  capital budget  request for  an extra                                                               
courtroom in the  Dimond Court House in Juneau, but  that was not                                                               
funded.  A request was made  in 2016 for additional rooms but was                                                               
not funded.   Having the extra rooms would have  at least allowed                                                               
a  visiting judge  to  hold  hearings at  the  same  time as  the                                                               
sitting judges  were holding hearings.   As a result,  the Juneau                                                               
caseload  has been  redistributed.   Specifically, the  presiding                                                               
judge of the  First Judicial Court District, who  lives and works                                                               
in Ketchikan, has been traveling  to Juneau to help alleviate the                                                               
case  backlog.   To lighten  the load  on his  Juneau colleagues,                                                               
this  judge has  been taking  on approximately  one-third of  the                                                               
Juneau  civil  cases,  all   the  administrative  agency  appeals                                                               
brought to the  Juneau Superior Court, and  periodic big criminal                                                               
trials.   She  said he  has been  doing this  for several  years,                                                               
which  means he  has been  working unsustainable  hours for  that                                                               
time.   She  said it  is  not a  model  that the  court wants  to                                                               
continue; therefore, it has been looking for a better solution.                                                                 
8:08:00 AM                                                                                                                    
MS. MEADE noted  a solution may have presented  itself because of                                                               
lucky  timing.   She explained  that  a district  court judge  in                                                               
Juneau  has  announced  retirement  this summer,  so  the  Juneau                                                               
Supreme Court wants  to convert that seat into  a Juneau Superior                                                               
Court seat.   She reviewed that superior court  judges are judges                                                               
of general jurisdiction while district  court judges have limited                                                               
jurisdiction.   She noted that  typically, superior  court judges                                                               
handle felonies,  domestic relations, probate matters,  and civil                                                               
cases in which  the amount of controversy is over  $100,000.  She                                                               
then listed that which district  court judges handle.  Currently,                                                               
Juneau  has   two  superior  and   two  district   court  judges.                                                               
Converting the one  district court seat to a  superior court seat                                                               
can  be done  with  nearly  no fiscal  impact,  because the  same                                                               
office, computer, and  supplies can be used, as  well as existing                                                               
judicial assistance and resources.   She said the only difference                                                               
in   cost  is   the  difference   in  salary,   which  would   be                                                               
approximately  $35,500,  which would  be  absorbed  by the  court                                                               
system via attrition and savings  the court has achieved in other                                                               
areas.  For example, there  are unfilled positions in a long-term                                                               
vacancy pool, the  savings from which can be used  to address the                                                               
wage difference.                                                                                                                
8:11:04 AM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE KREISS-TOMKINS indicated that  he learned from the                                                               
judicial address given  the day before and is  impressed with the                                                               
court system's focus  on frugality and efficiency.   He expressed                                                               
support for  HB 298.   He  asked if  it would  make sense  in the                                                               
future  to request  the  clerks for  this  proposed new  superior                                                               
court judge.                                                                                                                    
MS. MEADE said she has heard  this concern before.  She explained                                                               
that the  new judge would  share the judicial assistants  and two                                                               
law clerks presently in the  Juneau Superior Court, and "everyone                                                               
thinks  that that  will  be a  fine solution  and  will work  out                                                               
well,"  because the  addition  of  a judge  will  bring down  the                                                               
filings  significantly,   and  two  law  clerks   are  considered                                                               
sufficient to  handle that caseload.   She said the  court's plan                                                               
is  not   to  come   back  to  make   the  request   outlined  by                                                               
Representative  Kreiss-Tomkins.    If  the  court  does  need  an                                                               
additional  law clerk,  it would  seek  to address  that need  by                                                               
moving positions  around within the  court system.  She  said she                                                               
cannot  promise   the  request  would   never  be  made   of  the                                                               
legislature, but  at this point  there is no  plan to ask  in the                                                               
future.   She  offered other  examples to  show that  sharing law                                                               
clerks is not uncommon.                                                                                                         
8:13:42 AM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE SADDLER asked how much  savings has been seen from                                                               
"that  5 percent  reduction in  employees" and  how much  of that                                                               
savings would  be taken up  by the  swapping out of  one district                                                               
court judge to gain one superior court judge.                                                                                   
MS. MEADE answered  that the court system has lost  11 percent of                                                               
its  work  force, several  of  which  have  been from  the  First                                                               
Judicial  Court  District.    She said  45  positions  have  been                                                               
eliminated  and there  are about  32 positions  in the  long-term                                                               
vacancy pool.   She said she  does not know what  the actual cost                                                               
savings is, but  she said she knows one unfilled  assistant to an                                                               
administrator  position  brought  a   savings  to  the  court  of                                                               
approximately   $70,000,  including   benefits.     The  proposed                                                               
reclassification  of the  judge is  only  half that  amount.   In                                                               
response to  Representative Saddler,  she said she  would provide                                                               
the requested total to the committee.                                                                                           
8:15:29 AM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE  DRUMMOND asked  if the  caseload has  diminished,                                                               
increased, or stayed about the same.                                                                                            
MS.  MEADE answered  that the  caseloads fluctuate  but have  not                                                               
changed significantly.   She offered examples.  In  response to a                                                               
follow-up question, she  related that in some  instances, but not                                                               
others, cases are taking longer to  process.  She added, "Yes, it                                                               
can be  a little bit slower  when you have more  case filings and                                                               
more work to do per person."                                                                                                    
8:17:22 AM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE  SADDLER  questioned  why the  remaining  district                                                               
court judge would not be overwhelmed.                                                                                           
MS. MEADE  offered that there  is another position, which  is the                                                               
magistrate  judge, and  that judge  currently is  doing a  lot of                                                               
preparatory work  for the two  Juneau Superior Court judges.   If                                                               
HB 298 passes, that magistrate  judge would take on more district                                                               
court  work  addressing  minor   offenses.    Further,  she  said                                                               
superior court  judges can  handle district  court matters.   She                                                               
said this caseload distribution would  be coordinated.  She noted                                                               
that this one  district court judge and two  superior court judge                                                               
combination  is the  current model  in Kenai,  Alaska, which  has                                                               
nearly identical case  filing numbers.  In response  to a follow-                                                               
up question,  she said  if Juneau gets  the three  superior court                                                               
judges, all three  would be doing some district court  work.  She                                                               
said no additional training will  be necessary for the magistrate                                                               
judge to do the necessary work.                                                                                                 
REPRESENTATIVE SADDLER  said, "I'm wondering how  you're spinning                                                               
gold out of straw here."  He said  he wants to make sure there is                                                               
no work left uncovered.                                                                                                         
MS. MEADE responded that there would  be the same number of cases                                                               
with people who  can do more to handle the  right types of cases.                                                               
She added,  "And if  that one  judge could  handle some  of their                                                               
work  instead, that  would alleviate  the pressure,  and it  will                                                               
also alleviate  the traveling judge  having to come up  here, and                                                               
it will change what the ...  magistrate judge focuses most of his                                                               
time on."   In  response to  a follow-up  question, she  said the                                                               
court  has  no  plans  to   ask  for  further  judge  changes  or                                                               
additional magistrates.   She  said the  court is  "always moving                                                               
people around," but it is only  for the superior court judge that                                                               
the court needs the authorization from the legislature.                                                                         
8:22:20 AM                                                                                                                    
CO-CHAIR  PARISH  opened  public  testimony on  HB  298.    After                                                               
ascertaining  that there  was no  one who  wished to  testify, he                                                               
closed public testimony.                                                                                                        
CO-CHAIR   PARISH  stated   that  because   HB  298   is  "rather                                                               
uncontroversial,"  has a  zero fiscal  note, and  is going  to be                                                               
heard  by another  committee of  referral, he  would entertain  a                                                               
motion to move it out of committee.                                                                                             
8:23:01 AM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE LINCOLN  moved to report  HB 298 out  of committee                                                               
with individual recommendations and  the accompanying zero fiscal                                                               
8:23:11 AM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE TALERICO  objected for the purpose  of discussion.                                                               
He said Ms. Meade's presentation  of the proposed legislation was                                                               
one of the better  ones he has heard.  He  said after hearing the                                                               
aforementioned  address  yesterday   and  Ms.  Meade's  testimony                                                               
today, he  thinks HB  298 is  noncontroversial and  probably will                                                               
solve huge issues in the First Judicial Court District.                                                                         
REPRESENTATIVE TALERICO removed his objection.                                                                                  
8:24:04 AM                                                                                                                    
CO-CHAIR PARISH announced that there  being no further objection,                                                               
HB  298 was  reported out  of  the House  Community and  Regional                                                               
Affairs Standing Committee.                                                                                                     

Document Name Date/Time Subjects
HB269 Additional Documents - Pioneering Spirits Article - 2.8.18.pdf HCRA 2/8/2018 8:00:00 AM
HB 269
HB269 Supporting Documents - Support Letters 2.8.18.pdf HCRA 2/8/2018 8:00:00 AM
HB 269
HB298 Fiscal Note DPS-DET-01-27-18.pdf HCRA 2/8/2018 8:00:00 AM
HB 298
HB298 Fiscal Note JUD-ACS-01-22-18.pdf HCRA 2/8/2018 8:00:00 AM
HB 298
HB298 Sponsor Statement.pdf HCRA 2/8/2018 8:00:00 AM
HB 298
HB298 Supporting Case Filing Data.pdf HCRA 2/8/2018 8:00:00 AM
HB 298
HB298A.PDF HCRA 2/8/2018 8:00:00 AM
HB 298
HB267 Amendment J.4.pdf HCRA 2/8/2018 8:00:00 AM
HB 267
HB269 Additional Documents - FY15 - 17 Distillery Sales 2.8.18.pdf HCRA 2/8/2018 8:00:00 AM
HB 269