Courts should not be shortchanged

To the editor:

The governor and Legislature face many tough decisions in the next few weeks. As they make budget decisions, they will set the state’s priorities for the next two years. In doing so, they need to be careful not to short change Minnesota’s justice system.

Majorities in the Minnesota House and Senate appear to be taking an approach that significantly underfunds Minnesota’s courts, public defenders, civil legal aid organizations, and other parts of the justice system. They are not making the judiciary or public safety a priority – a mistake that would impact all Minnesotans.

The state’s projected budget surplus presents an opportunity to remedy critical budget deficits for the courts, public defenders, and civil legal services. Funding is needed to address the challenges of rising caseloads; improve cybersecurity for Minnesota courts and protect private data; close the gap between Minnesota public defender staffing and national standards; provide attorneys to enable low-income Minnesotans to meet their basic needs; and help resolve many other challenges facing our justice system.

Lawmakers should not think of the judiciary as “just another state agency.” Our court system is an independent branch of government, and access to justice is one of the first promises of Minnesota’s Constitution. Funding to uphold that promise should be a primary consideration in any budget setting process.

While tough decisions lie ahead in the next few weeks, support for Minnesota’s justice system should be a priority.

Gary Hansen