Court Closure Legislation. Trailer Bill Language Approved
After months of negotiating the one-day closure of trial courts statewide, final court closure statutory language has been sent to the Legislature for inclusion in the Budget Trailer Bill slated for legislative approval sometime next week.
The closures are expected to take effect in the month of July 2009 and result in employee unpaid furloughs and resultant savings of approximately $69.7 million in court employee salaries, plus an additional $23.2 million savings in court security and $9.3 million in voluntary participation by judges.
HIGHLIGHTS OF THE BILL
NO SET CLOSURE DAY OF THE WEEK
The bill authorizes the Judicial Council, the governing body of the Administrative Office of the Courts, “may provide that the courts be closed for the transaction of judicial business for one day per month.” The AOC is expected to identify the day of the month and provide an implementation plan.
The bill provides that the closure day “shall be treated as a holiday for purposes of performing any act requiring the transaction of judicial business,” and includes calculating court days for purposes of filing deadlines and in-custodies.
NO FURLOUGHS MENTIONED — BUT ANTICIPATED
The word “furlough” is not mentioned in this bill. Closure does not automatically equal furlough. The language gives the courts the statutory authority to close and to take steps to achieve savings as a result, which is widely expected to be employee furloughs.
PRESERVES THE MEET-AND-CONFER PROCESS
A trial court is not relieved of “its obligation to meet and confer concerning the impact of a court closure.” The right of court employees to local negotiation is guaranteed.
It is at this level that negotiations with regard to furloughs occur and subsequent amendments to current Memorandum of Understandings (MOUs) or union contracts. In addition to the anticipated furloughs, these discussions have reportedly included rollback of other employee benefits due, elimination or delay of previously agreed Negotiated Salary Increases (NSIs) or Cost of Living Adjustments (COLAs).
PRESERVES RETIREMENT, HEALTH AND OTHER SALARY-DRIVEN BENEFITS:
“Any court closure or reduction in earnings as a result of this section shall not constitute a reduction in salary or service for the purpose of calculation of retirement or other employment-related benefits for court employees.”
“Court security will not be required on any day in which courts are closed.” The rate paid to the sheriff’s department for security services will be reduced by 4.62%.
The salary of a trial court judge or appellate court or Supreme Court justice may not be reduced by law; however, this bill allows that they may voluntarily waive 4.62% of their monthly salary as a result of the one-day closure. (An estimated 75% of judges are expected to participate voluntarily in this program.)
Any judge not participating will be expected to report to work on closure days. “A judge or justice who makes a waiver is not obligated to appear for work at the courthouse on days that a court is closed.”
“This section is inoperative as of July 1, 2010.”
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