Rep. Mark Baker (R - Brandon), chairman of House Judiciary A, is handling HB 484, which would raise the pay of judges and district attorneys across the state.
The bill would fund the pay raise through an increase in filing fees. Over the next 4 years, the salary of the Chief Justice would rise to $159,000 a year, Presiding Justices would see an increase to $154,833.00, and Associate Justices would make $152,250.00. The Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals would make $147,578.00 a year come 2015, while Associate Judges of the Court of Appeals would make $144,827.00.
Currently, our Chief Justice is the lowest paid chief justice in the entire country.
Circuit and Chancery judges would make $136,000.00 a year starting January 1, 2016.
District Attorneys would make $125,900.00 a year starting January 1, 2016. Assistant District Attorneys and some Public Defenders would see an increase in their pay as well, as their salaries are tied to the salary of the District Attorney. (The Hinds County Public Defender, for instance, is paid commensurate with the District Attorney. The Washington County Public Defender, however, is not. Those salaries come from county budgets, not state funds.)
All pay raises would be phased in between now and 2016.
The filing fees for civil matters will essentially double to finance the pay raises. In addition, there will be an additional $10.00 assessment on traffic fines, game and fish violations, other misdemeanors, and all felonies.
One of the key provisions of the bill is the requirement that all judges promote drug courts. This is an exceedingly progressive piece of legislation in that respect. Drug courts have shown enormous potential to rehabilitate offenders and make them productive members of societies.
Rep. Bob Evans (D - Monticello) is questioning Baker on the bill now, and says he is in favor of the bill. He gets laughs by saying that he hopes that doesn't hurt the bill's chance of passage.
This bill requires a 3/5th vote.
Bottom line is that we are losing good judges and prosecutors because of the low pay. That has to change.
There are numerous introductions being made at the moment. Lots of judges and prosecutiors in the gallery. In addition, Hugh Keating, President of the Mississippi Bar, is in attendance. The Bar is in favor of the pay raise.
Baker is now on record as saying a "fee" is not a tax. That is contrary to some Republican language in the last election. Not certain who is asking questions of Baker now, as I missed the beginning of this questioning. Whoever it is is upset that nurses are not getting pay raises.
Baker says that the intent of the Legislature is for judges to expand and participate in drug court programs. Unfortunately, there are many areas of the state where judges have refused to establish drug courts. (I type that looking east and north.) Drug courts have restored many of our citizens to productive lives, and have saved the state money while doing it. They should be in every jurisdiction in Mississippi. In addition, Hinds County has begun a pilot mental health court that is based on a program showing enormous progress in other states.
Questioning of Baker is now over. Rep. Forrest Hamilton (R - Olive Branch) is now speaking on the bill. Hamilton: "I rise to speak against this bill."
Hamilton says everybody needs a raise, not just judges. Says that it makes him angry to vote for a pay raise for anyone when there are cuts to his school system back home. Now he's making references to the French Revolution and generally sounding off his rocker.
Now Rep. Willie Perkins (D - Greenwood) is now speaking in favor of the bill. Says he supports he bill, and thinks it's shameful and disgraceful that the judicial system has to come to the Legislature to beg for a raise. Says it's demeaning to the judicial branch to have to come to the legislative branch to ask for a pay raise. (I'd like to hear ways to fix that.) Says there are chancery clerks making more than the governor, and that needs to be fixed. (Chancery clerks get paid out of filing fees.) Perkins: "When a woman decides she's going to get rid of a no-good man, she's going to find the filing fee." Perkins on some legislator's concerns over the increase in fees and assessments on criminal convictions: "I've never seen such concern over the rights of criminals in this body."
Rep. Sherra Lane (D - Waynesboro) is now speaking on the bill, specifically about drug courts. She is also detailing all of the appointed department heads that make more than the justices of the Mississippi Supreme Court and Court of Appeals.
Rep. Ed Blackmon (D - Canton) is now up to speak. Says he spoke on a judicial pay raise 21 years ago to raise judicial salaries to more than what they will be next year under this bill. (Bill passed House and died in Senate.) Talking about how younger generations of lawyers are refusing to be judges because of the pay (there's much truth in this). Blackmon is now taking on Hamilton's assertions that judges shouldn't get pay raises because the kids in DeSoto County shouldn't have to suffer cuts to their school system. Says implementation of drug courts across the state would be of tremendous benefit to those kids and their generation. Says the money spent on the pay raise would be worth every penny if we save one kid through the establishment of drug courts. Now moves on to talk about how we lose judges and prosecutors because they have to go into the private sector to support their families.
Baker is now at the podium closing on the bill. Says state saves $38M with drug courts. Questions Hamilton's reference to the French Revolution. (Told you it was odd.) Says the raise would amount to 7 cents a minute.
YEA - 83
NAY - 37