Barkus’ Judicial Bill Sails Through Senate

By Beacon Staff

I’ve got a bit of a bone to pick with Sen. Greg Barkus, R-Kalispell and Senate Majority Whip. In early January I wrote a story where I talked to the Flathead’s legislators to find out what bills they would introduce in the current session, and the biggest bill Barkus said he was carrying was one to overhaul Montana’s “support plates” license plate program. But some time between when I wrote that story and now, Barkus has introduced a much more significant bill to increase by six the number of judges in five of Montana’s judicial districts. In Flathead County’s Judicial District 11, the number of district judges would increase from three to four.

Whether he neglected to tell me about this bill at the time, or had the bill dumped in his lap upon arriving in Helena is something I’ll have to find out later, but as of right now, Barkus is setting himself up for a showdown with Gov. Brian Schweitzer’s veto pen. Schweitzer’s aides have made clear he opposed the bill because of its $1.9 million price tag through 2013. But the bill passed the Senate by an overwhelming 44-6 vote yesterday. It’s clearly got the support of lawmakers in both parties – which means if it passes the House, Schweitzer will have to determine how the additional spending fits into whatever the budget looks like at that point, and determine whether to strip it out of the budget. Should be an interesting debate over this bill, which lawmakers, thus far, see as highly necessary.

From Chuck Johnson’s story:

HELENA – The Senate on Wednesday voted to add six new district judges in five judicial districts around the state, including two in Yellowstone County.

Senate Bill 158, by Sen. Greg Barkus, R-Kalispell, passed 44-6 and faces one more Senate vote before moving to the House.

“Basically, it’s to relieve the overloaded court system,” he said.

Gov. Brian Schweitzer opposed the bill because of its expense.