On May 26, 2011, Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman signed LB 669, which contained a substantial number of amendments to Nebraska statutes relating to provision of courts services by the District Courts and County Courts. The amendments reveal budgetary woes that have plagued other state court systems, such as Iowa and California, may have finally landed in Nebraska. Buried within a bill that amends no less than 25 statutes in the state of Nebraska is what appears to an innocuous amendment to Neb. Rev. Stat. § 25-2221 and the legislation governing the days Nebraska Courts are open and closed for business. After closer examination, the Unicameral Legislature’s amendment of the language, “Court offices shall be open on all other days” to “Court services shall be available on all other days”, leaves open the possibility of closing court offices.
The possibility for reduction in court facilities, services and staff becomes more distinct when one considers the amendments to Neb. Rev. Stats. §§ 24-507 and 24-515 contained in LB 669. The amendment to § 24-507 requires the county court clerk and staff to provide district court services when the district court clerk and staff are “temporarily unavailable.” The amendment to § 24-515 requires the district court clerk and staff to provide county court services when the county court clerk and staff “are temporarily unavailable or available on a less than full-time basis.” An additional amendment to § 24-515 allows for the Nebraska Supreme Court to appoint judicial hearing officers on a full-time or part-time basis in limited type of proceedings in the county court and district courts.
When read together, these seemingly innocuous changes to the provision of courts services by Nebraska’s county and district courts, create the possibility for substantial alterations to the availability of court facilities and staff.