Montana Legislative Update

2

Well folks, it has been a bumpy ride but we’re still on track. House Bill 60, which would establish a statewide self-help/pro se program, was heard by the House Judiciary Committee on the 7th of February (more back-story on the bill in this previous post). The hearing went fairly well, with over 20 individuals from organizations ranging from the AARP to the Montana Trial Lawyer’s Association to God’s Love Homeless Shelter testifying as proponents for the bill. No opponents were present and after short deliberation the Committee passed the bill during executive action on a vote of 10-7 (3 Republicans and all 7 Democrats voted in favor).

Questions raised by the Committee dealt mostly with concerns about the increase in frivolous litigation, but the proponents rebutted with provisions in the bill that call for education of alternative dispute resolutions. A Vice Chair of the Committee, Democractic Representative Dave Gallik, proposed an amendment to add an appropriations clause to fund an alternative dispute resolution component of the program. The bill then moved as amended to the House Floor, where it was seemingly due for the formality vote to re-refer the Bill to the House Approriations Committee. However, in the highly partisan environment following the death of the Governor’s Budget Bill (1 page Newspaper article), the Bill temporarily died on a 50-50 vote (majority is required to re-hear a bill). A little wheeling and dealing later, the Bill was finally referred to the Appropriations Committee, albeit with a significantly reduced Fiscal Note.

House Appropriations will hear the Bill this coming Monday (February 26th). A few District Court and Courts of Limited Jurisdiction Judges are slated to testify as proponents for the bill, to reassure the committee that the increase in litigants is not a signifcant concern to the stakeholders. What obstacles have state-appropriated funds for pro se litigants faced in your area? How have the sponsors dealt with them? Hopefully we will see a positive end here in Montana, I will have more updates as soon as they are available.

2 Comments

  1. david giacalone

    February 24, 2007 @ 11:59 am

    1

    Thanks for the update, Orijit. I’m heartened to see that the Trial Lawyers were supporting the self-help program, although I wonder what their position is on increasing small claims limits [it is dismally low in Montana, $3000] so that p/i suits might be brought in small claims court. The Montana small claims system received a D grade from HALT.

    How much lower was the Fiscal Note, and what does that mean? I wonder how expensive it would be to set up alternative dispute resolution programs in every court. That could significantly eat away at the self-help budget. ADR is a good idea, but needs additional funding, I would think.

  2. OGhoshal

    February 26, 2007 @ 12:51 pm

    2

    David, the new fiscal note is $350,000 a year, so $700,000 for the biennium (a 30% decrease from the original appropriation). Obviously this is not nearly enough to set up Alternative Dipute Resolution programs in each locality, nor is it enough to even set up self-help kiosks in each courthouse.

    The new proposal would include one FTE (an attorney to oversee the entire program) and contracting of the form assembly component to an existing Supreme Court Commission on Self-Represented Litigants (which is currently unfunded). Remaining funds would go to setting up kiosks in about 10 courthouses across the state (out of 22 Judicial Districts). The ADR component is envisioned to be more of an education issue, along with properly networking relevant professionals (mediators, negotiators, etc.) with the rest of the access to justice community.

Log in