Roger Burdick State of the Judiciary

Idaho Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Burdick gives his “State of the Judiciary” address to the Senate on Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2020.

Lawmakers in both houses today are hearing from Idaho Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Burdick, who is delivering his annual “State of the Judiciary” address, first in the Senate, and then in the House. As he opened his comments in the Senate this morning, Burdick remarked to laughter that while he knows his annual talk is always anticipated, he was surprised to see all the National Guard and emergency vehicles at the state Capitol for it today; they’re among the many displays and exhibits for “STEM Matters Day” today, which has drawn crowds of kids and visitors to the Capitol on multiple floors of the rotunda and out on the Statehouse steps.

“Today, I am here to report the State of Idaho’s judiciary has never been better in my 16 years on the Idaho Supreme Court,” Burdick told the Senate. “The successes I am going to report to you are in a very large part the result of your respect for our founders’ grand plan of three distinct but equal branches of government – a plan that is enshrined in both our national and state Constitutions.”

Noting that the Idaho Supreme Court used to have its chambers in the Statehouse – in what’s now the JFAC meeting room – Burdick said, “Though the judicial branch no longer resides in this remarkable building as we once did, we are always acutely aware of our role as one of three co-equals joined by the executive and the legislative.”

After a report on trends in Idaho's courts -- including significant savings anticipated in drug courts' treatment programs due to Medicaid expansion --  Burdick told lawmakers that mental illness is "the nation's most intractable social issue," and said, "We believe there is a need to chart a new course forward if we are going to improve how we deal with the mentally ill in Idaho." Idaho spends a lot, but the "real cost" impacts public safety, people and families, he said.

He highlighted progress in training Idaho first responders in crisis intervention; establishment of mental health crisis centers; and Idaho's mental health courts. But, he said, "The problem needs more."

So the courts have been meeting with the governor and legislative leaders to "try to create a unified course going forward." The first step, he said, is identifying what Idaho is doing and spending now, and whether it's effective. "We are not asking for more money -- we are asking that the money be spent in the most efficient and effective way," Burdick told lawmakers. 

The courts are issuing a Judicial Proclamation, and Burdick said he hopes it will be joined by a House and Senate joint resolution and an executive order for the governor "recognizing this societal issue and a coordinated, aggressive path forward to improvement." Grant commitments already have been secured, he said.

You can read my full story here at idahopress.com (subscription required), or pick up Thursday's edition of the Idaho Press.

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.

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