House Bill No. 493

Introduced By _______________________________________________________________________________

A Bill for an Act entitled: "An Act establishing the judicial redistricting commission; providing for appointments to the commission; directing the commission to conduct a comprehensive review and assessment of the montana judicial districting system; appropriating funds for the operation of the commission; and providing an effective date and a termination date."

WHEREAS, it is apparent that the equitable administration of justice throughout the State of Montana is at times thwarted because of the tremendous caseload of certain District Courts; and

WHEREAS, the civil and criminal caseload of certain District Courts is so large that unreasonable delays in the resolution of conflicts and prosecution of criminal activity often occur; and

WHEREAS, the last study of judicial districting in Montana was completed in 1982; and

WHEREAS, because caseloads of District Courts have continued to grow since 1982, it is apparent that it is time to again study District Court districting and that the piecemeal addition of judges is no longer the solution.

THEREFORE, the Legislature finds that it is appropriate that an interim commission be established and assigned to complete a comprehensive review and assessment of the Montana District Court system and to develop a plan to ensure the equitable distribution of caseloads in order to effectuate the equitable administration of justice in Montana.

Be it enacted by the Legislature of the State of Montana:

NEW SECTION. Section 1.  Judicial redistricting commission -- composition -- vacancies. (1) There is a judicial redistricting commission.

(2) The commission is composed of the following members:

(a) two members of the house of representatives, one from each party, appointed by the speaker of the house;

(b) two members of the senate, one from each party, appointed by the president of the senate; and

(c) one person, appointed by the chief justice of the supreme court.

(3) The members shall elect a presiding officer from among the members.

(4) The appointments required by subsection (2) must be made before July 15, 1997.

(5) A vacancy occurring on the commission must be filled in the same manner as the original appointment.

NEW SECTION. Section 2.  Meetings. The presiding officer shall schedule meetings of the commission as considered necessary and shall give notice of the time and place of each meeting to the members of the commission.

NEW SECTION. Section 3.  Reimbursement of expenses -- compensation. (1) The nonlegislative member of the commission, is entitled to reimbursement for expenses as provided in 2-18-501 through 2-18-503.

(2) A legislative member appointed under [section 1] is entitled to compensation and expenses as provided in 5-2-302.

NEW SECTION. Section 4.  Powers and duties -- staff support -- recommendations -- report. (1) The commission shall make a thorough study of the judicial districting system in Montana. The study must include consideration of:

(a) the necessity for restructuring Montana's judicial districts, taking into account civil and criminal caseloads as well as geographical considerations;

(b) the loss of judicial time and efficiency spent commuting between district courts within a district;

(c) the efficacy of providing state-paid clerical and other support to judges in rural areas that currently lack sufficient funding for clerical support or legal assistants and that lack legal library access;

(d) alternative plans for redistricting the present judicial district system; and

(e) the effects of redistricting or not redistricting judicial districts on the administration of justice, including costs and benefits.

(2) The legislative services division shall provide staff support to the commission.

(3) On or before December 1, 1998, the commission shall submit to the 56th legislature a report of its findings and conclusions, including, if applicable, a draft of proposed legislation.

NEW SECTION. Section 5.  Funding. There is appropriated from the general fund to the legislative services division $13,700 for the activities of the judicial redistricting commission. This is a biennial appropriation.

NEW SECTION. Section 6.  Effective date. [This act] is effective July 1, 1997.

NEW SECTION. Section 7.  Termination. [This act] terminates June 30, 1999.