LITTLE ROCK — A Northwest Arkansas lawmaker says he has found enough money to fund the state's 41 drug courts through the end of the next fiscal year.
LITTLE ROCK — A Northwest Arkansas lawmaker says he has found enough money to fund the state’s 41 drug courts through the end of the next fiscal year.
Sen. Bill Pritchard, R-Elkins, told the Joint Budget Committee on Thursday that the state Department of Community Correction has agreed to release $500,000 from its budget to fund the financially strapped courts that offer a treatment alternative for drug offenders who otherwise could end up in prison.
Members also heard that a funding solution may be at hand, at least for next fiscal year, for the Administration of Justice Fund from which trial court assistants are paid.
Gov. Mike Beebe has been supplementing the fund to help the judiciary avoid furloughs for the workers. Pritchard said after Thursday’s meeting that $500,000 from the Community Correction Department, plus $110,000 in supplemental funds Beebe has recommended from the state surplus should keep the drug courts operational until a more stable revenue source is found.
“It looks like we’ll have enough money to get through 2013,” he said.
During the meeting, Pritchard released a hold he had placed on the state Tobacco Settlement Commission’s budget.
He initially had intended to tap the commission’s budget for $3 million to operate the drug courts. The Legislature last year approved a bill appropriating $1.5 million from the DCC for treatment programs, but none of that money actually flowed to the program after lawmakers approved about $30 million in tax cuts.
The department shifted some funds and provided $500,000 for treatment programs at the beginning of the current fiscal year. Another $393,000 was transferred from the state Department of Health’s budget to help fund drug courts.
Pritchard said more than $250,000 is currently in the drug court’s operating fund, and he said another $500,000 infusion from DCC should keep the programs operational through the end of next fiscal year.
Meanwhile, Sen. Johnny Key, R-Mountain Home, proposed an amendment to the Administrative Office of the Courts budget to provide funding to the Administrative of Justice Fund to keep about 125 court assistants across the state on the job through in the 2012-2013 fiscal year. The fund is financed by court fees and fines, which have declined in recent years.
Last year, a special task force recommended that all trial court assistants take unfunded furloughs at the end of January to help ease the budget crunch. Gov. Mike Beebe staved off furloughs through the end of this month by releasing $40,000 in November and December, and $50,000 in January from his emergency fund.
Last week, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel offered $450,000 from a legal settlement to help keep the court assistants working through the end of the current fiscal year. Key told the Joint Budget Committee on Thursday that there is about $4.5 million in an account at the Arkansas Supreme Court where lawyers renew their law licenses.
Key’s amendment to the Administrative Office of the Courts budget would give the Chief Justice Jim Hannah the option of dipping into the account to pay the court assistants, if needed. Hannah said in January that it would probably take at least $40,000 a month to keep all the court assistants working.
The amendment is to be considered by the budget panel’s Special Language Subcommittee on Monday. “This simply gives the chief justice permission,” Key said.
The subcommittee also will consider another proposal to fund drug courts next week. On Thursday, Sen. David Burnett, D-Osceola, proposed an amendment to House Bill 1130, the DCC’s budget, to use $390,000 in asset forfeiture funds to fund two additional drug courts.