Ward-sponsored jury reform bill passes

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 3, 2005

A jury reform bill passed out of the House and Senate by Republican Shelby County resident and District 49 State Rep. Cam Ward and Democrat District 30 State Sen. Wendall Mitchell is expected to be signed by Gov. Bob Riley by Friday.

The bill, sponsored by Ward and supported by several national organizations to reform jury service, was passed by the Legislature in the closing hours of the recently concluded special session.

Known as the Jury Patriotism Act, the bill previously passed in the House but died in the Senate.

According to Ward, the bill makes several changes to current law by making jury service more flexible for those called.

The bill would prevent a person from being called for jury more than once in a two-year period, which was previously not the case. It also prevents an employer from penalizing an employee by requiring them to use vacation or leave time to fulfill their civic duty.

&uot;As a society, our participation in the civic process should always be a priority, but we should not have laws that penalize those who want to serve their community,&uot; Ward said.

Ward reported the new law would also instill the notion that people have the obligation to serve.

Previously, according to Ward, failure to appear for a jury summons was punishable by a $100 fine, which was less than the cost to enforce the penalty.

The new law makes failure to appear punishable by a fine of $300 and or community service.

&uot;Those who take the time to carry out their civic duty should not be overburdened by those who do not,&uot; said Ward. &uot;This bill serves as more of a deterrent to those seeking to just not reply to a jury summons.&uot;

Under the new law, there will also be more structure in place when seeking an excuse not to serve.

Citizens will be required to show specific undue physical or financial hardships to be excused from service.

&uot;I believe there are real reasons to be excused from jury service such as being unable to find a substitute caregiver, health or undue financial burdens, but just because you are inconvenienced should not be one of them,&uot; said Ward.

The American Legislative Exchange Council, the Council of State Governments and several national chambers of commerce supported the bill.

Ward said the bill is expected to be signed by the governor by Friday and would go into effect immediately