If Maine lawmakers pass a bill endorsed by the Legislature’s judiciary committee, pay for jurors in state courts would more than triple, rising to $50 per day — the same rate paid to jurors by the federal court system.
Maine residents on jury duty currently are paid $15 per day, and the state court system reimburses them at a rate of 44 cents per mile.
The committee last week agreed that jurors deserve a raise but split over how large it should be. Eight members voted for the proposed $50 rate while three voted for a $10 raise to $25 per day. As of late afternoon Tuesday, two members had not yet voted, according to the committee clerk.
The daily rate for jurors was increased from $10 to $15 per day in 2016. The following year, the mileage reimbursement rate rose from 15 cents per mile to 44 cents per mile, the same rate state employees and legislators receive.
That change doubled the judiciary’s annual budget for jurors from $500,000 to $1 million, according to Julie Finn, legislative analyst for the court system. This year’s budget is $1.1 million for pay and mileage reimbursement, with 51 percent budgeted for pay and 49 percent budgeted for mileage, she said.
If the $50 proposal were approved, it would take effect on Oct. 1 and increase the budget by an estimated $1 million in fiscal year 2020 and by $1.3 million in 2021.
The state’s fiscal year begins July 1 and ends June 30.
The $50-per-day rate would put Maine at the top of the pay scale for jurors nationally after remaining near the bottom for decades, according to the National Center for State Courts in Williamsburg, Virginia. In New England, Massachusetts pays $50 per day beginning on the fourth day of jury duty. New Hampshire pays $20, Rhode Island pays $15, and Vermont pays between $15 and $20.
The pay raise, sponsored by state Sen. Paul Davis, R-Sangerville, was proposed after the number of people called to jury duty but who don’t show up or communicate with the court began increasing.
The judiciary does not compile that information but in August a Superior Court justice complained that 21 of the 96 jurors called to serve in a Somerset County murder trial did not show up and did not contact the court clerk asking to be excused.
When Justice Robert Mullen called about a dozen of those residents in to explain why they had not reported to court when called, potential jurors cited illness, transportation problems, child care issues and the lost wages from work that the $15-per-day rate wouldn’t offset.
Rep. Thom Harnett, D-Gardiner, voted for the increase to $50 per day because the current rate does not fairly compensate people, he said.
“It is just too much to ask to give up a day of work for $15 a day,” he said Monday.
A majority of his fellow committee members agreed.
Rep. Barbara Cardone, D-Bangor, voted with Reps. Dick Bradstreet, R-Vassalboro, and David Haggan, R-Hampden for the raise to $25 per day.
Cardone, an attorney who practices family law, said she supports a raise for jurors but was concerned about the cost of the $50 increase.
“I want to put any available money toward funding civil legal services,” she said Monday.
Cardone co-sponsored a competing bill that would have raised juror pay to $40.