Local government mandate for Public Defenders’ salaries poised to be heard in Senate

February 13, 2020

A problematic bill that mandates local governments supplement their public defenders’ salaries narrowly passed the House of Delegates and is ready to be heard by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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.

ACTION REQUIRED – Contact legislators on the Senate Judiciary Committee and express opposition to HB 869.

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 Courts of Justice Committee, 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 razor thin, two-vote margin (48-50).  HB 869 is expected to be referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee, where it could be heard as early as Monday, February 17, at the committee’s 8am meeting.

KEY CONTACTS

Senate Judiciary Committee – Email entire committee

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

VACo Contact: Chris McDonald, Esq.

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