House Bill moving Hancock courts dies at last minute

Just when it seemed like local efforts to stop a bill that would move Hancock County to a judicial district with Daviess County had failed, then came news that the once-certain bill had failed to even come to a vote for final passage.

House Bill 327, in its original form, was a short, simple bill that would move Hancock County from the 38th judicial district and circuit, where it had been paired with other small counties Butler, Edmonson and Ohio, to the 6th, which had always been Daviess County alone.

The reason for the move was to add another family court judge for Daviess County, which a court study had said was needed.
When local officials heard about the bill they said it would force Hancock into a district where the other county had all of the size and the population, and they worried the much smaller Hancock would have no power to have any say over what happened.

They also had questions that hadn’t been answered, about whether judges from Daviess would now travel to Hancock County, and whether county residents would have access to the judges they voted for.  In its first vote in the House the bill passed 90-4, with Josh Calloway, who represents Hancock County in the 10th District voting no.

At the time Calloway warned that with the bill only affecting Hancock and Daviess counties, and with a court study showing a need for an additional family court judge in Daviess County, that representatives would simply vote for the bill in order to fix a problem that didn’t actually affect them either way.

After it reached the Senate, changes to the bill began that made it not as simple as it had originally been.
Although Hancock would still be moved to the 6th, state senators added language that would add judges to other districts too, like the 14th, 15th, 27th and 56th.

“Bills like that are kind of like a community Christmas tree,” said Calloway. “Once you get the structure out there, everybody wants to hang their ornament on that tree. And when that happens you take the chance of garnering enough support against it because it begins to affect more people.”

A floor amendment by Matt Castlen, who represents both Hancock and Daviess counties in the 8th District, would’ve kept Hancock in the 38th and gotten Daviess its judge, but the amendment was rejected for not following the rules for an amendment.
After all the changes, the Senate passed the bill 23-13, with Castlen voting no.

But with the Senate having changed the bill it had to return to the House for another vote to agree with those changes, and that’s where the now intricate bill languished.
“All of these different districts were being lobbied for people to go ahead and get these amendments done on these particular districts and get these changes made,” he said.

“The larger this bill got, the more amendments that got filed to it, the more people it was affecting and they could not even get it called back to the floor to get a vote on it because they didn’t have the votes to get it passed with all those amendments,” Calloway said.

The idea of moving Hancock County to a new district is likely dead for a while, he said, since part of the reason for doing it now was because all of the judges in the district were coming up for election at the same time in 2022, and that won’t happen again until 2030. Also with next year being an election year, he doesn’t foresee anyone wanting to make waves.

That doesn’t mean, however, that no one will bring it up at all.
“We need to be looking at the future because this is probably going to come up again at some point,” he said. “The main thing I think is this, I think it’s that Hancock County has to make sure that we are involved in the solution and a part of the solution so that we are doing this for ourselves and it’s not being done to us.”

By Dave Taylor

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