Rep. Bryan Zollinger

Idaho State Rep. Bryan Zollinger, R-Idaho Falls,  advocates for a proposed bill in the Idaho House on March 4. Zollinger, who voted against the bill approving the interstate transport of hemp, said it gives law enforcement too much power.

BOISE — A bill to boost judges' pay by almost 3 percent a year is headed to the House floor.

The House Judiciary Committee voted Tuesday to advance the bill, which passed the Senate a week-and-a-half ago.

"It's really simple, I always believe that you get what you pay for, and (state courts administrative director Sara Thomas) is correct that the best way to recruit and retain new judges is to increase the salary, because there are a lot of options with what you can do with a law degree to make more money," said Rep. Bryan Zollinger, R-Idaho Falls, who is a lawyer.

The salary of an Idaho Supreme Court justice is fixed in statute, with other judges paid less on a fixed sliding scale. This bill would bump a Supreme Court judge's pay from $151,400 to $155,200 a year and leave the current scale in place, resulting in raises for lower court judges as well. Overall the judicial salary pool would go up by 2.95 percent, or $769,500, a little less percentage-wise than the raises other state employees will get next year.

While most state employee salaries are set through the budget process, judges' salaries need to be approved by the House and Senate Judiciary committees and pass as a separate bill, since the judiciary is an independent branch of government. Thomas said the state struggles to recruit and keep judges, as Idaho's judicial salaries are lower than all but two of the 13 western states and rank 41st out of the 50 states nationally.

The committee’s vote was unanimous, although Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, had a few questions, noting the committee approved a similar increase last year.

“It would be nice to be on top of it and then have enough and then go from there,” she said.

Committee Chairman Rep. Thomas Dayley, R-Boise, said he plans to meet with Senate Judiciary Chairman Sen. Todd Lakey, R-Nampa, after to the session to discuss setting up a more orderly process to address judges’ pay.

Reporter Nathan Brown can be reached at 208-542-6757. Follow him on Twitter: @NateBrownNews.

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