Local government mandate for public defenders’ salaries narrowly passes House

February 11, 2020

A problematic bill that mandates local governments supplement their public defenders’ salaries has narrowly passed the House of Delegates by a razor thin 50-48 vote.

HB 869 (Bourne) requires that the governing body of any County or City that elects to supplement the compensation of the attorney for the Commonwealth, or any of their deputies or employees, above the salary of any such attorney of the Commonwealth, deputy, or employee, to proportionally supplement the compensation of the public defender, or any of his deputies or employees.

VACo opposes HB 869 for several reasons.

KEY POINTS

  • If any locality supplements their Commonwealth’s Attorney’s salary – as many, if not most, localities already do – this creates an unfunded mandate requiring that they also supplement their Public Defender’s salary.
  • Commonwealth’s Attorneys are independently elected, constitutional officers, while Public Defenders are state employees. Requiring local governments to fund state employees sets a dangerous precedent.
  • The legislation lacks clarity on how to properly address Commonwealth’s Attorney’s offices or Public Defender’s offices that are shared by multiple localities.
  • The legislation lacks clarity on how to address supplements to positions that exist in a Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office but do not exist in a Public Defender’s office.

HB 869 narrowly escaped the House Committee on Courts of Justice, first failing to report 11-11 but eventually reporting to the House 12-10 after the vote was reconsidered.  On the House floor, the bill barely survived by a two-vote margin.  HB 869 will now be referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

VACo members should contact their legislators on the Senate Judiciary Committee and express their opposition to HB 869.

KEY CONTACTS

Senate Judiciary Committee: Edwards (Chair), Saslaw, Norment, Lucas, Obenshain, McDougle, Stuart, Stanley, Chafin, Deeds, Petersen, Surovell, McClellan, Boysko, Morrissey

Email entire committee at once – Senate Judiciary Committee

VACo Contact: Chris McDonald, Esq.

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