Under the Dome

Reducing court backlog is bill’s intent

A series of four bills making mostly minor adjustments to the state’s criminal laws are about to begin moving through the legislature.

"The theme of all four bills is we need to do something about how long it takes criminal cases to be disposed of," Rep. Paul "Skip" Stam said at a House judiciary committee on Tuesday.

The committee took a look at the first of the bills, House Bill 173, which Stam cobbled together by working with 40 or 50 people in the criminal justice system. All of the controversy was drained out of this bill, the Apex Republican said, with the aim of it going to the full House for a vote after the committee approved it, which it did unanimously.

Update: The House is scheduled to take up the bill on Wednesday.

Another bill is likely to contain some controversy over a provision that would make it unnecessary for some experts to testify in district court trials, since they have to testify in superior court anyway if a conviction is appealed, Stam said after the meeting.

Two additional bills will have to go to finance and appropriation committees because they would involve costs, he said.

Among the highlights of HB173:

▪ Remove sexual battery from the list of offenses that require someone convicted of those crimes to register as a sex offender. Sexual battery is a misdemeanor that typically involves inappropriate touching.

▪ Give those ordered to pay a fine, penalty or court costs twice as much time to pay it. That is expected to increase the likelihood of people paying what they owe.

▪ Allow a chief district court judge to give magistrates the authority to appoint attorneys and accept waivers of counsel. Currently, only magistrates who are attorneys can do that.

▪ Reduce unnecessary appeals.

▪ Reduce the backlog of driving while impaired appeals.

▪ Rewrite state law so that its language conforms with a U.S. Supreme Court decision prohibiting people with intellectual disabilities from receiving the death penalty.

Rep. Rick Glazier, a Democrat from Fayetteville who is on the committee, praised Stam’s approach to the bill as a model for the way legislation ought to be written, by building consensus and whittling away controversial provisions.