The Jefferson County Commissioners took a stand at their meeting Tuesday, signing a resolution to oppose LB 544, a bill proposed in the state legislature that would allow for the elimination of the position of the Clerk of the District Court.
The bill gives county commissioners the power to eliminate the position of Clerk of the District Court and to reassign those duties to the Clerk Magistrate, a state employee. The commissioners would only be allowed to do so if a vacancy occurs, if the incumbent fails to meet the filing deadline for an election or if they choose not to refile.
County Commissioner Mark Schoenrock expressed his opposition during the commissioners meeting, which was attended by Jefferson County Clerk of the District Court Shawna Taylor and Clerk Magistrate Tammie Duensing.
“When we discussed it, I think our principle concern is the potential for the county to lose the authority and control on the issue and having things become more centralized,” said Schoenrock. “I’ve read the bill, and it’s just not clear, and I know from life experiences that when you transfer something higher up, it’s hard to get things to come back down again. Our principle concern is the centralization of that function. I’m a big proponent of keeping government at the closest level to the citizens.”
Duensing stated this is not the first time a similar bill has been introduced to legislature. She believes it is the result of an effort to aid smaller counties with fewer court cases.
“I think there’s a lot of concern over this bill,” Duensing said. “I think the intent is maybe not so much in our size of county, but in smaller counties out west where there are maybe five or six cases in district court a year, and county court has very low numbers. They told us there are 37 counties that have an ex officio serving, which is actually the County Clerk or the Register of Deeds. I’ve been here long enough that this isn’t the first time this bill has come up.”
Commissioner Gale Pohlmann emphasized that the Jefferson County Commissioners see value in having a Clerk of the District Court. He stated that even if the bill passes, the decision will be left to the commissioners.
“Right now, if the counties want to eliminate that position and go to a state magistrate, they would have to have a petition among the residents of the county to eliminate that office,” said Pohlmann. “What LB 544 does is takes that petition part out and allows the county commissioners to make that decision. But, as long as the person keeps running for that position, they can’t do anything. I don’t think we’d ever eliminate it. At this point I’d say no. A lot of counties won’t be affected. I think we’re okay, but we’ll still strongly oppose it.”