Judiciary Committee

JOINT FAVORABLE REPORT

Bill No.:

SB-31

Title:

AN ACT CONCERNING CONTINUED DELIVERY OF LEGAL SERVICES TO THE POOR.

Vote Date:

3/24/2014

Vote Action:

Joint Favorable

PH Date:

3/10/2014

File No.:

SPONSORS OF BILL:

Governor's Bill

REASONS FOR BILL:

There are insufficient funds to provide for legal aid services to the indigent.

RESPONSE FROM ADMINISTRATION/AGENCY:

CT Office of the Attorney General, Attorney General George Jepsen – Supports - “This bill seeks to address the costs of providing supportive legal service to the poor by increasing funding for the Connecticut Bar Foundation and decreasing funding provided to the Judicial Branch's Data Processing Revolving Fund. Currently, legal services for the poor are funded through Interest on lawyers Trust Accounts (IOLTA), General fund appropriations and court fees. These services were initially funded solely through IOLTA, but this source has dramatically collapsed. IOLTA has seen a damaging drop in funding from roughly $20 million in legal aid to just over $2 million in the last several years.

IOLTA was the sole source of funding for Legal Aid until the national credit crisis caused a significant reduction in funds. In 2009, facing a need to develop multiple funding sources, the Legislature, Governor and Judicial Branch created legislation that provided additional funding for Legal Aid through increases on court filing fees. However, legislation in 2012, which allocated seventy percent of collected court fees to Legal Aid funding, included a sunset provision that will bring an end to that portion of funding on July 1, 2015. This bill eliminates the sunset provision and continues to fund services that hundreds of thousands of poor people in Connecticut depend upon.

Legal Aid is a critical service for thousands of Connecticut poor. Providing a wide array of services that go beyond the court room, Legal Aid has worked to keep our children in school, protect women safe from abuse in their family relationships, save many from homelessness and assist families with obtaining basic healthcare. These issues are some of the most challenging facing Connecticut's residents. Without the help provided by Legal Aid, many would be alone in the fight. Legal Aid plays a role in protecting our most vulnerable seniors from abuse and exploitation. Connecticut's workers have been able to obtain employment, fair wages and safe working conditions in part through Legal Aid's dedicated lawyers.

There are instances when constituents come to us facing issues over which I do not have jurisdiction, or seeking representation that I cannot legally provide. Often, the only place they can turn is Legal Aid. Despite serious funding challenges, Legal Aid still helps eighty-five percent of individuals seeking their assistance in eviction cases and seventy-five percent in family cases. Legal Aid's ability to do that work is in jeopardy without continuing this important fund source.”

CT Office of Policy and Management, Karen Buffkin, Deputy Secretary – Supports – “The Governor's proposed bill eliminates the sunset on the changes to the court filing fees that were enacted in 2012 and were set to expire on July 1, 2015…. also changes the distribution of the funds collected as a result of the filing fee increases in 2012 by shifting an additional 25% of a total of 95% of the fee differential to the organization that is administering the programs for the funding of legal serviced for the indigent. As a result of this shift, the funding for the Judicial Department for information processing and technology would be reduced from 30% to 5%.

In 2012 the legislature increased certain court filing fees and imposed new fees for the dual purpose of providing a more stable funding source for legal aid for some of our most vulnerable citizens. This action was taken in response to a significant downturn in interest income from the interest on the lawyers' trust accounts (IOLTA) which served as a major source of funding for legal aid service in the state. Unfortunately during the ensuing period the interest rates have stayed historically low and thus the anticipated funding generated for legal aid remains below the levels necessary to address the projected need for services.

Approving this legislation will make these fee increases permanent and will provide a funding level for legal service that is stable and sufficient to meet projected levels of service needed into the future.

CT Judicial Branch, External Affairs Division, Judge Patrick L. Carroll III

“The Judicial Branch supports this proposal, which will help ensure that organizations providing legal services for indigent persons continue to be funded. Currently, three funding streams support legal services to the poor in Connecticut: Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts (IOLTA), general fund appropriations and a portion of court fees. For a significant period of time, IOLTA was the single source of financial support for legal services, until the national credit crisis, lower interest rates, and changes in real estate practices dramatically reduced the amount generated. The Connecticut General Assembly replaced a portion of the lost funds by establishing a dedicated line item in the Judicial Branch operating budget for legal services. That line item is funded at $1,660,000 for FY14 and FY15. Additionally, in 2009, and again in 2012, the Legislature increased certain court fees and directed that a portion of the revenues realized from those increases be used to fund legal services organizations.

This bill increases the funding administered through the Connecticut Bar Foundation for legal service organizations and decreases the funding available to the Judicial Branch for the Data Processing Revolving Fund. Currently, 100% of the fee increases specified in P.A. 09-152 are directed to the Connecticut Bar Foundation. P.A. 12-89 further increased fees, and required that every quarter, seventy percent of the amount of the fee increase be directed to the Connecticut Bar Foundation for legal services, and thirty percent to the Judicial Branch for its Data Processing Revolving Fund. The Data Processing Revolving Fund provides funding for important information system improvement projects such as E-filing, For the Record (FTR) digital records, electronic Courtroom Sound System Upgrades, System upgrades for the Civil, Criminal Motor Vehicle and Family systems, and other initiatives.

This bill changes the split between the Connecticut Bar Foundation and the Judicial Branch Data Processing Fund for excess fees generated under P.A. 12-89 from 70%/30% to 95%/5%. The impact of this proposed change is noted below.

P.A. 09-152 will generate an estimated $7,672,040 in FY 14, all of which will be directed to the Connecticut Bar Foundation to fund legal service organizations. P.A. 12-89 will generate an estimated $6,675,320 in FY 14. Under the current 70%/30% split, $4,672,724 would go to the Bar Foundation and $2,002,596 would go to the Judicial Branch Data Processing Fund. Should this bill pass, those amounts will be as follows: $6,341,554 will go to the Bar Foundation, and $333,766 to the Judicial Branch Data Processing Fund.

Despite the fact that the Judicial Branch will lose revenue under this proposal, we urge the Committee to act favorably on it. This is because we recognize the importance of a reliable funding stream for organizations that provide legal services for the indigent.”

Connecticut's Legislative Commission on Aging, Julia Evans Starr, Executive Director -

“The Legislative Commission on Aging supports SB 31, which makes permanent a funding means by which people in our state who are of extremely modest means and few options can receive services thru Legal Aid. In recent past, the Connecticut General Assembly responded to dwindling funding for Legal Aid services to the poor thru legislation in 2009 & 2012. These pieces of legislation established that revenues from court filing fees would be dedicated to Legal Aid services. Unfortunately, the sunset provision for such funding established in the 2012 legislation would go in effect in July 2015. The sunset would have a devastating impact on the number of legal aid staff and dramatically reduce the existing staff's capacity to help low income people of all ages in dire need of often urgent assistance. Our office frequently refers older constituents and their concerned loved ones to Legal Aid for such impactful issues as elder abuse, neglect, exploitation and potential evictions. These people simply need help! SB 31 would eliminate the sunset provision and establish some funding stability for Legal Aid and the people they serve.”

CT Office of the Healthcare Advocate, Victoria Veltri, State Health Care Advocate

“OHA supports” this bill. “Without this continued funding, Connecticut's Legal Services programs would lose approximately $4.5 million in funding to provide needed representation in civil legal matters to Connecticut's lowest-income residents. SB 31 would provide an additional $1.5 million to Legal Services programs.

OHA has worked for years with Connecticut's Legal Services programs to assist low-income residents with complex behavioral and medical needs get the services they need. OHA also partnered with Legal Services programs on the promotion of transparency in state programs. OHA staff knows firsthand the critical work that the programs provide to low-income communities in ensuring access to needed health benefits and protecting the rights of low-income families in fair hearings and access to the courts.

As the Healthcare Advocate, my daily work is informed by my past experience as a staff attorney at Greater Hartford Legal Aid, Inc. In our watchdog role, the OHA staff has worked with Legal Services attorneys in monitoring state programs to offer solutions to barriers to access and to express concerns when policies could detrimentally impact our low-income residents. The protection of the rights of individual consumers through representation by counsel cannot be understated and Legal Services provides the primary vehicle for this representation. The complexity of statutes related to healthcare requires the experience and training of attorneys such as those who provide superior representation to their clients. OHA does refer matters to legal services programs when they are outside our jurisdiction or exceed our jurisdiction.

Over the years Legal Services has faced significant budget challenges. Every year, the agencies have sacrificed in myriad ways to ensure that their clients do not sacrifice. The Governor and you have helped keep the lifeline of legal services programs available to thousands of Connecticut's most vulnerable.

I support the Governor's initiative to continue the support for the highly qualified representation that legal services programs provide for residents on healthcare matters, juvenile court issues, family court matters, special education and unemployment hearings, among others.”

NATURE AND SOURCES OF SUPPORT:

Connecticut State Independent Living Council and Independence Northwest , Eileen M. Healy, Chairperson and Executive DirectorPeople with disabilities comprise a disproportionate number of the poor. Not only are they discriminated against because of their

disabilities, they also experience discrimination based on their other characteristics such as race, age, and sexual orientation, etc. People with disabilities encounter obstacles to employment, education, housing, health care and basic needs, and are frequently subjected to abuse and exploitation. Connecticut Legal Services is the go to resource for these consumers and many others. Without the legal representation that Connecticut Legal Services provides most of these consumers will suffer and the state will experience increased

expenses in court, shelter and medical costs, among others. The staff of Independence Northwest rely on and collaborate with Connecticut Legal Services. Their attorneys and expertise are critical resources that ensures that our clientele achieve and maintain

independent living in our communities.”

Connecticut Bar Foundation, Peter Arakas, President – The Connecticut Bar Foundation is the non-profit entity designated under Connecticut General Statutes 51-81c to administer public funds dedicated to supporting the State's legal services organizations. For a long time, much of that funding came from interest earned on the trust accounts lawyers held for their clients (“IOLTA”)….IOLTA collapsed some years ago. In 2007, IOLTA revenue was approximately $21 million. This past year…, IOLTA income was just over $2 million, a 90% decline. The downward trend is continuing: in January, the most recent month for which we have complete data, IOLTA revenue was the lowest in the history of the IOLTA program.

The loss of IOLTA revenue has had a profound impact on the Bar Foundation's ability to fund the state's legal services organizations. As a result there has been harm to the organizations' ability to provide legal services to low-income people in need. Make no mistake about it, the impact has been devastating….

The good news…is that…the legislature enacted increases in court filing fees to help alleviate the legal services funding crisis….

The Governor's proposal, …would solve two problems: it would eliminate the sunset on this vital legal aid funding, which would result in a loss of $4.5 million in funding; and it would move more of the money to legal aid funding (about $1.5 million per year). The Judicial Branch, which bears the impact of this move, supports the bill because of the depth of their support for the cause of access to justice…. If the sunset provision is not repealed this year, the legal service organizations will have to make decisions this year about terminating employees. The result will be an immediate reduction in the amount of legal services available for the poverty population, which reduction would only increase over time. It is estimated that there would be a reduction of at least 35 lawyers, or around 25% of the current total statewide staffing of legal services. In stark contrast, the additional funding represents as many as 15 new positions that could be filled to provide additional legal support for those whose voices frequently go unheard of in our society.

I cannot begin to impress upon you how critical the need is. There are so many victims of domestic violence who still don't have lawyers. Many people being evicted have valid defenses, but don't have a lawyer. There are elderly people with health care and consumer problems, who don't have a lawyer. Too many children and adults with disabilities, who are trying to access benefits and services, don't have a lawyer.”

Connecticut Bar Association, Kimberly A. Knox, President – “The CT Bar Association was fully supportive of this bill in 2012 and we continue to support today's bill….The issue was brought by the Pro Bono Committee to the CBA Board of Governors. The CBA's Pro Bono Committee consists of nonprofit providers of low and modest means legal services, private practitioners and legal service providers. CBA Board of Governors immediately supported this legislation that would eliminate the sunset provision so that legal services could make plans for next year and beyond. We are also delighted with the suggestion to change the funding to 95/5…. Legal Aid Services accepts those challenges in our court to represent the ever increasing number of unrepresented testing the capacity of our court system. Reductions to these legal services would delay access to justice to those most in need.

Connecticut Trial Lawyers Association – “ The CTLA strongly supports SB 31 and urges its passage. The CTLA recognizes the funding challenges presenting Legal Services. SB 31 merely seeks to keep in place the already inadequate funding received by Legal Services. All elements of society, not just attorneys, benefit from the services provided. However, it is attorneys and their clients, through court fees, which are helping Legal Services to survive. As attorneys, the CTLA recognizes our obligation to support some of the most vulnerable people in our society which include the clients of Legal Services. In the future, the CTLA would encourage the legislature to look at additional funding sources beyond the legal community to support for Legal Services.

Connecticut Asian Pacific American Bar Association (CAPABA), the Connecticut Hispanic Bar Association (CHBA), the George W. Crawford Black Bar Association (Crawford) and the South Asian Bar Association of Connecticut (SABAC) – “.. our strong support for the Governor's proposed bill S.B.31. We were proud to support the original 2012 legal services funding initiative, which saved Connecticut's legal services programs from the devastating collapse of IOLTA funding in 2008. We now respectfully urge you to support S.B. 31, which would remove the sunset provision from 2012 court filing fees increase, and ensure the provision of additional funds to legal services programs to help them continue to stabilize and recover.

Our organizations represent the interests of many of Connecticut's minority lawyers, judges, legal professionals and law students. We share a common interest in the goals of ensuring access to justice by the minority communities that we represent, and every lawyer's ethical responsibility to support and participate in the provision of legal services to the poor. We personally recognize the need for vibrant legal services programs in Connecticut, as more and more individuals appear pro se before Connecticut courts. We are also familiar with the hard work of Connecticut's legal services organizations, and their attorneys, and cannot emphasize enough the importance of maintaining such a vital service.

Connecticut Legal Services, Greater Hartford Legal Aid and New Haven Legal Assistance help over 10,000 low-income people every year. These organizations provide much-needed free legal assistance to low-income families facing imminent homelessness, victims of domestic violence, disabled adults and children seeking state and federal benefits, elderly individuals facing nursing home problems and collection actions, among countless other civil legal difficulties. The need for such legal services continues to grow, and S.B. 31 would ensure a steady and reliable source of funding for legal services in the future.”

Connecticut AFL-CIO, Todd G. Berch, Field Director – “The Connecticut AFL-CIO on behalf of our 900 affiliated local unions who represent 200,000 working men and women all across this great State support S.B. 31…. By passing S.B. 31 funding will continue for not only court fees and legal services, this legislation will also increase fee percentages for legal services without raising court fees. Without passage of this bill legal aid staffing, that is represented by our U.A.W. affiliate, and services provided by that department have no alternative except to be further reduced. The elderly, children and those that are “at risk” have unfortunate life circumstances where they have no choice but to rely on these provided services.”

United Auto Workers Region 9A, Julie Kushner, Director – “…On behalf of our members who provide free legal services to low income families throughout Connecticut, we strongly urge passage of the governor's bill SB 31 to stabilize funding for legal aid programs in the State.

Our members make a difference in the lives of your constituents – elderly and children in need of lawyers, battered women forced to get relief in court, people at risk of homelessness, and many more. They are incredibly dedicated to their clients and their communities. Over the years, however, as you know, they have taken furloughs, layoffs, and staff reductions yet continued to provide the highest level of service possible under such strained conditions. Unfortunately, fewer resources and staffing have resulted in needy children not getting the service they require…. SB31 will eliminate the sunset on court fee funding of legal services, and would increase the percentage of those fees going to legal aid programs. No court fees would be raised….. Without elimination of this sunset provision, legal aid programs will once again be left to resort to reducing staffing and services.”

Connecticut Women's Education and Legal Fund, Catherine Bailey, Legal and Public Policy Director - “Witnessing this need for legal services firsthand, we strongly support S.B. 31…, which would eliminate the sunset provision on the court filing fee revenue that is dedicated to legal aid. Without this bill, $4.5 million in statewide legal aid funding would be lost next year…. Legal Aid attorneys routinely advocate for vulnerable individuals and families who are facing critical issues – education discrimination, risk of homelessness, family violence, access to health benefits, among others. They also engage in proactive programs to address root causes of poverty and support job attainment programs for their clients. Thousands of families across the state are in desperate need of these services, which must be continued…. Legal Aid is a service that needs to be expanded; not limited.”

Spanish Speaking Center of New Britain, Mary L. Sanders, Executive Director – “The Spanish Speaking Center is pleased to support CT Legal Services in seeking secured funding and the elimination of the Sunset Clause that could affect the services they provide. State funding is critical for the delivery of legal assistance services to New Britain residents and all CT residents who cannot afford to pay a private attorney. Many of those served in New Britain are also clients we see in our Food Pantry, Social Services and Adult Education & Employment programs. It would be impossible for low-income individuals and families to receive quality counsel and fair representation without their assistance. The range of services our local office provides are too numerous to describe; I most frequently refer

clients for assistance with housing issues, disability issues and access to healthcare services. The added value is that they not only help with these individual cases but they perform much needed advocacy work on issues that affect large numbers of low-income people.

Another critical area of expertise that has helped so many of my clients is Family Law and CLS's compassionate attorneys have counseled and represented individuals going through divorce, custody and child support proceedings. I would hate to imagine our clients not having access to these services and protections of their rights.”

United Services in Danielson, Julie Hoagland, Program Manager – Connecticut Legal Services provides our clients with vital legal assistance. Such assistance includes restraining orders, divorces, custody orders, immigration, housing and benefits issues. CLS is a trusted resource for United Services and our clients…. It takes special training and understanding to work with victims of domestic violence and CLS attorneys are skilled in this area. CLS makes a difference for our community and our clients.

Safe Haven of Greater Waterbury, Louisa Printz, Community Educator – Safe Haven provides emergency shelter and comprehensive supportive services for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. The majority of our clients would never be able to afford these legal services. We have referred clients for immigration, housing , benefits and most frequently for divorce and custody. “

Greater Hartford Legal Aid, Kristin Hoffman, Chair, Board of Directors; New Haven Legal Assistance Association, Professor Jay Pottenger, Jr. Chair; Connecticut Legal Services, Richard Orr, Chair of the Board – “Together our three organizations cover the entire state of Connecticut…. 2 points:

First: legal aid funding has been in crisis since 2008 when Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts (IOLTA) funding began to dramatically decrease (from $20.7 million in 2007, to about $2 million/year now.) but during that same time period there has been an increase in the numbers of low-income people who are themselves in crisis and who need legal services in order to meet their basic human needs;

Second: court fees enacted by the governor and legislature in 2012 provide essential, substantial support for legal aid. SB31, which the Judicial Department supports, would eliminate the sunset in current court fees law so that funding can continue uninterrupted…..

Every day, our lawyers address legal problems related to low-income people's basic survival:

Helping women stay safe….

Helping children with learning challenges….

Preventing homelessness….

Helping families get basic health care….

Helping workers achieve self-sufficient through employment….

Helping seniors to maintain independence….

The collapse in legal aid funding beginning in 2008 would have resulted in the collapse of legal aid in Connecticut, but for the support of the Legislature and the Governor. In brief, the Legislature and the Governor enacted court filing fees in 2009 and again in 2012 to keep at least most legal services staffing in place to assist families. However, the 2012 fees will “sunset” or automatically expire unless the legislature acts.

The Governor's proposal in SB 31 eliminates the sunset so that this funding can continue. The “sunset” provision in the current law would cause an enormous fall-off in legal aid funding in 2015, and before the legislature would have time to act, the legal aid programs would be forced to lay off at least 35 staff, with a resulting reduction in services to thousands of people…. SB 31 increases the percentage of the 2012 court fees that goes to funding legal services from 70% to 95$. That increase is accomplished by decreasing the percentage going to fund Judicial Branch technology. We are very grateful that the Judicial Branch supports this change….

Connecticut Voices for Children, Sharon D. Langer, Senior Policy Fellow – “This bill will help continue the funding for the network of Legal Services programs that provide critically needed representation in civil legal matters to Connecticut's poorest children, youth and families. Specifically, the bill would eliminate the sunset provision on the court filing fee revenue

that goes directly to fund these programs. Without this legislation, funding for Legal Services

would be reduced by $4.5 million next year.”

Connecticut Conference United Church of Christ, Michele Mudrick, Legislative Advocate – “I am writing on behalf of the 240 congregations and more than 75,000 people in Connecticut. Nationally, the UCC has more than 5, 700 congregations with nearly 1 million members….Legal aid lawyers help over 10,000 people each year. Legal aid lawyers help children with learning challenges stay in school and to obtain the support services they need. Legal aid lawyers help protect women from violence and abuse. They assist people in obtaining and keeping safe, affordable housing, and help families get basic health care….The Connecticut Conference of the United Church of Christ supports Senate Bill 31 because it will eliminate the end date of July 1, 2015 for funding and move some of the court fee revenue from the Judicial Branch technology fund to legal aid funding. Connecticut's poor people need and deserve access to legal aid.'

AIDS Project Greater Danbury, Roberta Stewart, Executive Director – “Although people living with HIV/AIDS have seen remarkable strides in the management of their disease process, there are some who find themselves disabled and unable to continue to work. They find they are at a point at which they must apply for disability benefits so as to ensure some source of income for themselves and their families. This is an emotional and difficult decision, as well as the start of what can be an unbelievably lengthy and arduous process. Applying for disability requires mountains of forms - applications, releases of information, requests for health records, testing, procedures, affidavits from multiple providers and the list goes on… People do the best that they can to submit everything that is required and then they wait… At

this point they have had to stop work and must attempt to piece together a patchwork of resources to maintain their life – their housing, food on the table, transportation to necessary medical appointments, access to life saving medications… All the while anticipating the letter that says they have been granted disability… Finally, the letter arrives, but instead of details

regarding their projected income they see the word DENIED followed by the notification that they have the right to appeal this decision… In other words you will not be receiving any money and you can start the process all over! ….Unfortunately, being denied disability does not come with some magic potion that suddenly makes you physically able to return to work and earn a living – Thankfully, our clients at AIDS Project have had access to outstanding legal representation by … Connecticut Legal Services.”

The following individuals related their personal stories and experiences in support of S.B. 31:

Darnisha A. – Client of Connecticut Legal Services

Danielle Burns – client of New Haven Legal Assistance

Xiomara Campos – Adult Advocate at New Horizons, a Domestic Violence Program

Nilda Cruz – Prudence Crandall Center, Shelter Manager

Rachael Davis – Friendship Service Center of New Britain, Supportive Housing and Outreach Program Director

Rosa Dilone – former Legal Aid client

Maria Duran – former Connecticut Legal Services client

Bouchra Frank – former Legal Aid client

Celestina Harrington – former Legal Aid client

Antoinette Humes – former Legal Aid client

Dawn Kardulis – former Legal Aid client

Kimothy Reynolds-Williams – Legal Aid client

Alfred Williams – former Legal Aid client

NATURE AND SOURCES OF OPPOSITION:

None submitted.

Reported by: Elizabeth Santangelo

Date: March 27, 2014