Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Republican AZ legislators blackmail judiciary

Let's start with the definition.

noun: blackmail
the use of threats or the manipulation of someone's feelings to force them to do something.

Republican legislators are doing something very similar, if not identical in spirit, to blackmail as reported in the Arizona Capitol Times (subscription required), "Budget ties court funding to additional Supreme Court justices".

Arizona courts won’t get a million dollars in funding for new probation officers unless Republican legislative leaders get their way and add two new justices to the state Supreme Court under the budget to be introduced today.

The proposal by Republican leadership in the House and Senate ties the $1 million funding increase to the passage of Rep. J.D. Mesnard’s bill that would expand the size of the Supreme Court from five justices to seven, according to budget documents obtained by The Arizona Capitol Times. Those funds would be used to hire 16 new probation officers to serve a growing population on probation – a move court officials argue will help keep more people out of prison, a cost-saving for the state.

Mesnard, R-Chandler, said he opposes holding the probation money hostage on behalf of his bill, HB2537.

Oops. The sponsor of the bill is against the blackmail. So who is doing it and why?

"I don’t agree with that. I made it clear to the leadership in my small group (budget briefing yesterday),” the Chandler Republican said. “I think, in particular, the probation issue is a legitimate, standalone issue.”

The budget includes $500,000 in funding for two new justices, as well as $100,000 for a 1.5-percent judicial pay raise. Both line items are also contingent on the passage of HB2537.

But those funds were the result of negotiations between lawmakers and Arizona’s five current Supreme Court justices, who have been opposed to Mesnard’s effort to expand the court. Mesnard said it was “problematic” that Republican leadership tied his legislation to other funding needs for the court.

Chief Justice Scott Bales told a meeting of the Arizona Judicial Council in March that the court’s five justices unanimously oppose HB2537, at least as a standalone measure. Bales and court officials have negotiated with Mesnard and other lawmakers for more funding for the court, as well as pay increases for themselves and judges in county superior courts and the appellate courts. Judges haven’t received pay raises since 2008.

So the present justices are against HB2537. And that leaves ...

Though Mesnard has argued that expanding the size of the Supreme Court will better allow the court to cope with an increased workload, others have argued the effort is politically motivated and the true aim is to allow Republican Gov. Doug Ducey to place his conservative stamp on the court by appointing two more justices.

Earlier this year, Ducey appointed conservative lawyer Clint Bolick to the Supreme Court.

Mesnard says there is not enough support for HB2537 to pass. The budget doesn’t include as much funding as the justices had pushed for in negotiations, so they’re unlikely to support the bill.

And rank-and-file lawmakers may, like Mesnard, oppose the thought of tying court funding to the bill.

“Absent some changes in the budget items, I doubt there’ll be support there for this issue,” he said. “Let’s just assume that the Supreme Court bill does not move forward, and let’s look at these issues and decide what we want to support or not.”

Let's hope HB2537 exits gracefully stage left.

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