Our View: Jurors need support for crucial service
Minnesotans reporting for jury duty today will be among the first in the state to see their daily reimbursement double.
The legislature's recent supplemental budget bill included $1.5 million to allow the daily per diem to increase from $10 to $20. The increase comes six years after the daily per diem for district courts was slashed from $30 in 2008, following years of state budget deficits.
The bump puts Minnesota in the center of the nation's juror per diem rankings, where Illinois pays as low as $4 a day and some states pay as much as $50 a day to jurors sworn in for trials.
Minnesota does offer additional reimbursements not seen in many other states, including up to $50 a day for child care and mileage, which has also doubled to a rate of 54 cents a mile.
Of course, jury duty isn't about the pay. As Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Lorie S. Gildea noted, "jury service is one of our most important civic duties as Americans." It's how we ensure our fellow residents get fair trials, and it's how we help keep our communities safe.
Too often we groan when we hear someone has been called to serve, and too often we joke about how we would attempt to shirk our duty. Yet, it's something we should embrace; it's a chance to make sure our judicial system functions at its best.
At the same time, no one should be overly burdened by the service.
With names randomly chosen from among Minnesota drivers, registered voters and those holding state identification cards, the pool of potential jurors in the state is vast. Last year, more than 44,000 Minnesota residents reported for jury duty, and we know they all didn't have employers who reimbursed them for their time away from work. They likely lost earnings in the process.
While many employers — including the Post-Bulletin — agree to pay employees while serving such a crucial duties, others either cannot afford to or refuse to compensate workers, meaning $20 a day could be all they earn while on jury duty.
We applaud the employers who see the benefits of supporting our jurors, and we encourage those who do not already do so to consider the merits. By ensuring we have a health jury pool of people who aren't distracted by the financial hardship of serving, we are ensuring the system remains strong. Supporting jurors helps make sure decisions aren't hurried, and jurors who don't have to worry about their paychecks can concentrate on their service.
As Gildea said in a statement after the per diem increase was announced: "While we know that the small amount jurors receive for their service doesn't reflect the importance of their work, we hope that this higher compensation will make it a little easier for citizens to participate in their justice system."
Making it easier to participate strengthens the system, and helps ensure we all are best served by jurors' service.