As most of you recall, we have been giving highlights of the 2016 budget in the newsletter over the past few months. Today, I would like to go over the Justice and Public Safety section of the budget. This section funds the Department of Public Safety, Department of Justice, Office of Indigent Defense, and the Administrative Office of the Courts. This section of the budget spends $2.6 billion, which is about 11.6 percent of the total appropriated budget. Below, I will go over some of the major funding priorities in the Justice and Public Safety budget:
• $1.1 million in non-recurring funds for the Western Crime Lab to purchase new equipment and $300,000 for new operating expenses.
• $700,000 for the Tarheel Challenge Academy to construct a new gym.
• $2.2 million non-recurring to help speed up DNA and toxicology forensic analysis.
• $500,000 for the Veterans Life Center.
• $8 million for the State Bureau of Investigation to purchase a new plane.
• $160,000 for the NC Justice Academy in Salemburg to offer new narcotics and crime scene investigation courses.
• $85,000 for the Tarheel Challenge Academy to purchase a new bus. This appropriation can be matched by the federal government to allow them to buy an additional three buses.
In the provisions of the Justice and Public Safety budget, we added two new District Court Judges to help address case backlog. We also tasked the Office of Indigent Defense with studying the pool of cases where a defendant could be charged with murder and that case would merit the cost of a capital prosecution and defense, and determine what cost saving measures could be implemented in these cases. The Office of Indigent Defense will look at the feasibility of setting up full-time, satellite offices that would be dedicated to handling capital cases and would be staffed by full-time assistant capital defenders. The budget also appropriates $3.5 million to the Office of Indigent Defense for the Private Assigned Counsel Fund to help address case backlog. The budget directs the Office of Indigent Defense and the Administrative Office of the Courts to establish and implement a pilot project to establish a uniform fee schedule for the payment of attorneys’ fees for legal representation of indigent persons to help prevent this backlog from building up again.
Question of the Week
Last newsletter, I asked your opinion on whether you would like to see an addition to the Mountain to Sea Trail. The addition would be called the Coastal Crescent Trail, and it would run through Eastern North Carolina. The Coastal Crescent Trail would give those who travel the Mountain to Sea Trail a second route to travel and see the beautiful, unique farm land that rural North Carolina has to offer. Everyone thought that this was a great addition to the trail. I agree with this and am interested to see how it develops.
This newsletter, I would like to get your opinion on how we select judges. Currently in North Carolina, the majority of our judges are elected by the public, compared to the federal level, where judges are appointed by the President. In an election, judges running must raise money and campaign while also upholding the law. Do you feel that this is an effective way to select who serves in the judicial branch, or do you feel that judges should be appointed? If you believe that they should be appointed, then who do you think should appoint them?
As always, please do not hesitate to contact me if I can assist you in any way possible.
Brent Jackson is a state senator representing Sampson, Duplin and Johnston counties.