Jurors may get a raise

A proposed bill that would increase juror compensation may make more people eager to do their civic duty, area county officials said.

But it has those officials wondering how they're going to come up with the money — which some estimate could be an additional $100,000 to $300,000 — to pay jurors.

"It's another unfunded mandate from the state that the counties have to worry about," said Piatt County Board Chairman Randy Keith.

Senate Bill 3075 would increase juror pay to $25 on the first day and $50 for each subsequent day.

The daily rate in East Central Illinois ranges from $10 in Champaign and Vermilion counties to $20 on the first day and $30 for each subsequent day in Piatt County. Ford County pays $15 a day, and Douglas County pays $25 a day.

The proposal would eliminate mileage pay, which all counties provide now.

Officials said they understand the bill's intent.

"One of the biggest barriers to service is the economic impact on potential jurors," Champaign County Circuit Clerk Katie Blakeman said, adding the current rate doesn't make up for what many people lose in wages or salary when they miss work. "We do recognize that as a serious problem."

Champaign County issues about 6,000 summonses a year, Blakeman said. She said Deb Busey, the county's administrator, has estimated the increase could cost between $200,000 and $300,000.

"That's an enormous increase that we simply weren't prepared for," she said.

Vermilion County Circuit Clerk Denny Gardner said the proposal moved quickly and quietly though the fall veto session.

"It kind of went through without a lot of knowledge by court personnel," Gardner said.

He said the new law would take effect on June 1, which is halfway into Vermilion County's fiscal year. Gardner said the county's budget was adopted in December, and there's not a lot, if any, wiggle room.

"It's something the county board will have to address," said Gardner, who estimates the increase could cost his county another $100,000.

"We have a new panel that comes in every two weeks all year long," he said, adding that the county issues summonses to about 150 people each time, and about 100 come in and are paid $10.

"That will increase to $25 a day."

Blakeman serves on the Illinois Association of Court Clerks' legislative committee.

"We are working on some trailer legislation that would address the economic impact to counties," she said, adding the group hopes it's considered in the spring session.

Keith hopes the state would help cover the additional cost, but he's not holding his breath.

Fortunately, Piatt County only has a few jury trials each quarter, Keith said.

"But you never know what's going to happen," he said. "We could have one or two big trials, and that could really set us back.

"The folks expect us to have a balanced budget," Keith continued. "We'll have to look at all of our other line items ... and try to pool some money and make it happen."

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