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Legislative Report District 13: Judiciary must keep pace with state's growth, changes

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As North Dakota continues to grow, all facets of our state's demographics, population, industry, infrastructure and economy are affected.  If state government is to keep pace, it must keep a close eye on these developments and plan how to best address today's challenges and anticipate tomorrow's changing needs. 

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Addressing today's trends, such as crime statistics recently released by North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, and taking a long view of how to best serve North Dakotans, from law enforcement to the Judicial branch of government, are important elements in responding and planning for our future.  Two committees on which I serve address such issues.   

The interim Judiciary Committee, which I've taken part in for most of my tenure as a legislator, regularly addresses issues involving crime, civil justice, and the courts.  Often, trends in this arena help shape legislation for the next session.  

As a longtime member of the Judiciary Committee, during both legislative sessions and interims, and having been involved in numerous pieces of judicial, legal and criminal justice legislation, I've also been appointed by the North Dakota Supreme Court to various committees, in addition to the Legislative Committees in which I'm involved. 

A current such panel -- the Judicial Planning Committee - includes people from all facets of our judicial and criminal justice systems in addition to representation from the Legislative Branch.  This brings a wealth of experience and a variety of perspectives to bear on addressing the future of the Judiciary in North Dakota. 

These involvements bring focus to specific issues which may need to be addressed by legislation and a broad view of what changes may need to be made in order to best serve the people of North Dakota in decades to come. 

The Judiciary Committee has been studying issues such as possible changes to the statute of limitations, juvenile court jurisdiction and adult court transfers, as well as venue parameters for lawsuits, and issues involving illegal drugs, gambling, criminal justice, and other related matters. 

The Judicial Planning Committee is considering how to best realign the court system in order to help the Judicial Branch of North Dakota Government better deliver judicial services for the people of North Dakota.  These efforts must be balanced, but responsive to demographic trends, population shifts, and other factors.   

For example, technology offers new options for delivery of services which were once performed locally, throughout the state, but which, in the future, may be more regionalized or centralized, which would improve both services and efficiency.  At the same time, however, having a presence and providing court services locally in each of North Dakota›s 53 counties is also very necessary. Finding that balance has been the focus of much of the Committee›s discussion and planning.  Possible realignment of some counties, within the current alignment of Judicial Units and Districts, has also been discussed.   

Recommendations from this Committee will soon be communicated to the North Dakota Supreme Court, which will consider them before making its recommendations to the Legislature, which will make final decisions on items which may require changes in the law or funding. 

As preparations for the next legislative session continue, your Legislators appreciate hearing from you.  You may reach us by mail, e-mail, or telephone: Rep. Alon Wieland (awieland@nd.gov; 282-9470); Rep. Kim Koppelman (kkoppelman@nd.gov; 282-9267); Sen. Judy Lee (jlee@nd.gov; 282-6512). 

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