North Dakota's Senate has passed the budget bill for the judicial branch, including a judgeship for the district that covers Burleigh and Morton counties.
Senators unanimously passed the 2019-21 judicial budget bill on Monday. It now goes back to the House for concurrence on Senate amendments, which also include a requested $970,000 remodel of the North Dakota Supreme Court Law Library in the state Capitol's Judicial Wing.
The remodel is meant as a cost savings to relocate the court's information technology staff from a rental space in downtown Bismarck.
The proposed judgeship with a companion court reporter is for the South Central Judicial District, which covers nine counties, including Burleigh and Morton. The South Central Judicial District has a shortage of about three judges based on recent, weighted caseload studies.
The bill also carries legislative intent for the judiciary to consider relocating existing judges before asking for new seats.
The House side had not included the judgeship, court reporter and remodel, but did budget five new court staff positions for around the state, which the Senate also OKed.
Sen. David Hogue, R-Minot, who chaired a subcommittee on the judicial budget, carried the bill Monday and said the amended $110.9 million budget funds all the court's priorities. The remodel costs would be covered by the Capitol Building Fund.
The original judicial budget request did not meet Gov. Doug Burgum's budgeting guidelines for reductions — instead budgeting for seven new full-time positions after losing 10 percent of court staff to budget cuts in 2017.
"I wish we could accommodate (Burgum's) request generally, but I can't in good faith do it," North Dakota Supreme Court Chief Justice Gerald VandeWalle said last fall.
Hogue said Senate budget writers owed some "deference" to the judiciary as a co-equal branch of government.
"We tread lightly on their budget. That doesn't mean we don't scrutinize it," Hogue said.
North Dakota has 51 district judgeships serving eight judicial districts. The last new judges were added in 2015.