Unfunded Mandate for Public Defender Salaries Defeated for the Year

February 20, 2020

A problematic bill that mandated local governments supplement public defenders’ salaries was defeated in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday night.

HB 869 (Bourne) requires that the governing body of any County or City that supplements 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 had numerous concerns with the bill.

  • This legislation represented an unfunded mandate on local governments. Local discretionary funding decisions must remain local governing body decisions.
  • Commonwealth’s Attorneys are independently elected, constitutional officers, that in many ways function as local government employees. On the other hand, Public Defenders are state employees, and requiring local governments to fund state employees sets a dangerous precedent.
  • The legislation lacked clarity on how to properly address Commonwealth’s Attorney’s offices or Public Defender’s offices that are shared by multiple localities.
  • The legislation lacked 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.
  • This bill would take effect for any supplement made on or after July 1, 2020, meaning that it directly affects local budgets now under development.

VACo spoke in opposition to the bill and was joined by other local government representatives as well as several Commonwealth’s Attorneys.

The Committee ultimately decided to continue the bill to 2021, agreeing that this issue should be further studied and analyzed before any legislative action is taken.

VACo Contact: Chris McDonald, Esq.

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