- Associated Press - Friday, March 25, 2016

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Facing a Monday deadline and an ultimatum from House Democrats, Kentucky Senate Republicans approved spending cuts of 9 percent to the state’s court system, a reduction the chief justice says would prompt 600 layoffs and force thousands of people facing criminal charges to sit in jail while awaiting trial.

Lawmakers have until midnight on Monday to reach a compromise on a two-year state spending plan for the executive branch of more than $65 billion in state and federal tax dollars. Lawmakers also must pass spending plans for the judicial and legislative branches of state government.

Budget negotiations for the executive branch budget began Thursday night. House Democrats indicated they would not negotiate until Senate Republicans had approved budgets for the judicial and legislative branches.

Facing a midnight deadline on Monday, Senate Republicans rushed through both bills on Friday morning. Senate budget chairman Chris McDaniel said lawmakers did not have time to make changes to the bill. That means it will head to Republican Gov. Matt Bevin’s desk for his signature.

“Unfortunately when (House Democrats) walked in and said we can’t negotiate without these bills they just left us no choice,” Senate budget chairman Republican Chris McDaniel said. “They sent me the four biggest pieces of legislation with less than a week to handle all of them and then demanded that they be done overnight. So they’ve created this situation.”

The judicial budget written and approved by House Democrats includes 9 percent cuts for the court system. Chief Justice John Minton told lawmakers that would leave him with a $76.9 million deficit. Elected officials, including judges and circuit court clerks, would not be affected. But Minton said the cuts would require 600 layoffs across the state and the elimination of the state’s drug court program, where low-level drug offenders are closely monitored and treated instead of being sent to jail.

He said pretrial services would also have to be reduced, potentially sending some 17,000 people back to jail because there would be no officers to supervise them while they are awaiting trial.

Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo said he thought Minton was exaggerating.

“I don’t think they have been exactly forthright with the information,” he said. “We don’t get consistent numbers from them.”

Minton declined to comment.

It is possible lawmakers could give the court system more money by amending the executive branch budget bill, which is still being worked on by a committee of House and Senate leaders.

“There are very difficult ways to do that,” Republican Senate President Robert Stivers said. “If (House Democrats) have some solution, then we’ll be willing to entertain it.”

Lawmakers met for three and a half hours Friday afternoon to discuss the executive branch budget. They did not discuss the judicial budget. Stumbo told reporters after the meeting that the judicial budget “has been worked out.”

“Right now, it’s on its way to the governor’s desk,” he said.

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