The Alaska House of Representatives has voted unanimously in favor of a proposal to add a third superior court judge to Juneau’s courthouse.
House Bill 298, proposed by Gov. Bill Walker at the request of Chief Justice Craig Stowers, calls for one of Juneau’s two district court judgeships to be converted to a superior court judgeship. Juneau already has two superior court judges, but Stowers told the Legislature earlier this year that a surge in felony cases has left those two judges with a surplus of work.
“The Juneau Superior Court is overburdened with cases,” said Rep. Justin Parish, D-Juneau, before Friday’s vote.
Stowers and Parish each said that allowing judges from Sitka and Ketchikan to deal with the additional cases is not an ideal solution. It costs money to send those judges from their homes to Juneau, and it takes away from their ability to conduct cases in their own courtrooms.
“This can lead to burnout and is not a sustainable way to deal with the problem,” Parish said.
Under the HB 298 plan, the new superior court judge will not receive additional support from the state, and the existing district court chambers and courtroom will not be upgraded, as had been suggested.
Instead, the judge will work from the existing facilities, with existing staff. A superior court judge earns about $35,000 per year more than a district court judge, but the Alaska Court System is expected to absorb those costs without a budget increase.
HB 298 passed the House unanimously, 36-0, and advances to the Senate for consideration.
No vote on school trust
An expected Friday vote on House Bill 213, dealing with the state’s public school trust fund, did not take place. Before Friday’s floor session, Parish (who is sponsoring the bill) said he did not have the 21 votes needed for passage. House Majority Leader Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage, duly postponed the bill until Monday.
If signed into law, HB 213 would change how the trust fund is invested and spent. The Alaska Legislature would be allowed to spend up to 4.75 percent of the average value of the fund over the past five years. The idea behind the proposal is similar to one being considered for the Alaska Permanent Fund, but the trust fund’s balance is far lower than that of the Permanent Fund.
HB 213 was introduced by Parish last year and was advanced from the House Finance Committee on Feb. 12.
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