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SACRAMENTO � State lawmakers on Tuesday stripped from the budget a $36 million proposal to beef up security in California’s courthouses. Judicial officials are now hoping the governor can persuade legislative leaders to restore the long-sought money during final negotiations over the 2007-08 spending plan. “We’re optimistic that leadership will continue to discuss it,” said Eraina Ortega, an advocate in the Judicial Council’s Sacramento office. A six-member bicameral committee also eliminated $5 million to fund a pilot project that would provide lawyers for poor litigants in some civil cases. Legislators instead allocated $2.5 million to expand existing self-help legal programs. Lawmakers also approved $7.3 million for early work on new courthouses in Lassen, Calaveras, San Benito and Tulare counties. The conference committee has yet to take action on proposed improvements to the judges’ pension system known as JRS II. The committee’s decisions do not constitute the final action on the 2007-08 budget. Legislative leaders from both parties and the governor � a group commonly known as the Big 5 � typically hammer out the final spending details behind closed doors and only present a finished budget when they’re confident they’ve secured the votes of two-thirds of the Legislature. But the conference committee’s actions go a long way toward shaping the final plan, especially on smaller-ticket items like those in the judicial budget. Members of the committee, especially three from the Assembly, have repeatedly expressed concerns about the governor’s $36 million proposal � unveiled in May � to standardize courthouse security throughout the state. The plan, negotiated by judiciary officials and county sheriffs, followed legislation passed in 2003 that required the Judicial Council to develop courthouse safety standards on issues ranging from staffing levels to equipment costs. Lawmakers complained that they weren’t given enough time to thoroughly scrutinize the proposal, and that it gives too much money to courts that are already exceeding the standards. And they said the plan does not do enough to contain state costs, with sheriffs being allowed to staff the courthouses with veteran deputies, who in some cases earn top-dollar salaries dictated by county-negotiated labor contracts. The Legislative Analyst’s Office has recommended that the courts hire security staff through a competitive bid process. Judges’ pension reform remains the major undecided judicial issue in ongoing budget negotiations. Public employee labor groups have protested the proposal that would provide, for judges appointed after 1994, retirement benefits at a younger age and with fewer years of service. Those labor groups want the judges’ proposal put on hold while a state committee considers possible changes to other public employees’ pension plans. But Chief Justice Ronald George has � so far � succeeded, with the backing of Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, in pressing lawmakers to consider sweetening judges’ pensions this year.

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