NH House and Senate Approve Proposed Judicial Branch Budget
By: Dan Wise
Both chambers of the NH Legislature have approved the proposed NH Judicial Branch operating budget for the upcoming biennium, with only minor differences.
The budget calls for adding one superior court judge and one court monitor position in each of the two years of the budget cycle, with no layoffs.
Pending approval of HB648, existing marital masters would be able to remain in their positions until they leave office. This bill would save money for the court system, which would not have to appoint and pay the higher salaries and benefits for full-time judges to fill those positions. If the bill, as voted on by Division I of the House Finance Committee, passes, the Judicial Branch said the savings would fund more per diem days for part-time judges to hold more court sessions.
The NH Judicial Branch’s operating and capital budget requests put the multi-million-dollar NH e-Court Project at the forefront.
Despite a difference in the amounts in the capital budget approved by the Senate and the House, which will eventually be reconciled by the committee of conference process, the Judicial Branch is expecting to spend about $3.5 million over the next two years to advance the electronic case-processing project.
“We greatly appreciate the effort of legislators who have worked with us on the court budget, especially as we move forward with the NH e-Court Project, which will benefit all court users,” said Chief Justice Linda Stewart Dalianis.
NH e-Court aims to automate all aspects of case processing and enable electronic case filing, payments, signatures, notices and retrieval of case information. Once a vendor or vendors are officially approved, the NH e-Court Project implementation schedule will begin, with small claims cases (about 15,000 per year) being the first to go paperless, followed by civil cases in the superior court, and then landlord-tenant and circuit court civil cases, all of which are slated for electronic processing by the end of 2015.
The capital budget also contains $200,000 in funding for furniture, other outfitting and security equipment for the new Cheshire County courthouse that is under construction in Keene. The courthouse is expected to open by January 2014.
Leaders of both chambers have appointed members to serve on conmittees of conference to reconcile differences in bills, with finalization of the budget and accompanying legislation expected by the end of the month.