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Bill would add family court judge in Lincoln’s circuit

STAFF REPORT

The Interior Journal

A bill that would add a family court judge in Lincoln County’s judicial circuit passed the state House of Representatives on Monday.

House Bill 348 would “add family court judges to both the judicial circuit serving Pulaski, Lincoln and Rockcastle counties and the judicial circuit serving Boone and Gallatin counties,” according to a news release from the Legislative Research Commission.

The bill is sponsored by Rep. Jeff Hoover (R-Jamestown) and Rep. Jason Nemes (R-Louisville).

“Those two (circuits) in particular have a tremendous need,” Nemes stated in the news release. “There’s a lot of places in Kentucky where judges are working extremely hard but in those two places — I don’t see how they’re even getting the job done, they’re so overworked.”

The bill also “requires the Kentucky Supreme Court, through the Administrative Office of the Courts, to perform an analysis based on present caseloads and population shifts to determine the need to rearrange judicial circuits and districts across the Commonwealth,” according to a news release issued by state Rep. David Meade (R-Stanford) following passage of the bill in the House.

Kentucky Supreme Court Justice John Minto and Associate Justice Daniel Venters testified in committee about the need for the bill, according to Meade’s news release.

“In his testimony, Venters, a Somerset native, noted that the situation in the 28th Judicial Circuit has become ‘a slow-motion train wreck’ due to the large volume of work. HB 348 would remedy this, and would also set into motion the first judicial redistricting since the 1970s,” Meade’s release reads.

“The situation in the 28th Circuit has become dire, to the point where our citizens are not being effectively served even as our judges are working harder than ever,” Meade stated in the release. “House Bill 348 is a solution that will provide relief for our courts while also improving the justice system for all of our citizens, and I was proud to support it.”

Lincoln’s judicial circuit is “among the most overburdened statewide” and one judge in the circuit is “taking on the caseload typically done by nearly three judges,” according to Meade’s release. “… The measure contains a minimal financial impact, since a select few judges across the state were reshuffled to offset much of the costs of a new judge.”

“A circuit judgeship in Floyd County and a district judgeship in far West Kentucky would be eliminated by HB 348 as of 2023 to pay for the family court judgeships created by the bill,” according to Nemes in the LRC news release.

“A light caseload was also the reason for targeting Floyd County Circuit Court for elimination of a judgeship, according to Nemes,” the LRC release states. “But Rep. Angie Hatton (D-Whitesburg) disagreed with the proposed change. She ended up voting against the bill in committee. Although Floyd County isn’t in her district, Hatton said she thinks HB 348 ‘disproportionately affects my mountain community and especially that district, where they already share judges who travel far distances.’”

The bill was received in the state Senate on Tuesday. It had not been assigned to a committee as of Wednesday, according to the Legislative Research Commission’s log of activity on the bill.