Judiciary Committee

JOINT FAVORABLE REPORT

Bill No.:

SB-428

Title:

AN ACT CONCERNING FUNDING OF LEGAL SERVICES FOR THE POOR.

Vote Date:

3/21/2016

Vote Action:

Joint Favorable

PH Date:

3/18/2016

File No.:

SPONSORS OF BILL:

Judiciary Committee

REASONS FOR BILL:

Primary sources of funding through diminishing interest on the Lawyer's Trust Account and declining state revenue have resulted in cuts in funding for legal services to the poor.

RESPONSE FROM ADMINISTRATION/AGENCY:

None Submitted

NATURE AND SOURCES OF SUPPORT:

United Auto Workers Region 9A, Julie Kushner, Director/Beverly Brakeman, Political Representative: Support this bill. This bill increases court filing fees for the first time since 2012 and gives the Judicial Branch the authority to designate Client Security Fund revenues to fund legal services to the poor. Continuing reductions in funding has caused a reduction in the amount of staff available to render legal services to the poor. This crisis has not gone away despite all of our efforts and people are suffering and struggling. This bill will help stem the tide of diminished resources and funding.

Connecticut Voices for Children, Sharon D. Langer, M.Ed., JD, Acting Executive Director: Supports this bill. As you may know the network of legal services programs for the poor has seen its main source of funding through the Interest on Lawyers' Trust Accounts plummet from $20 million in 2007 to only $2 million during the last several years. In addition, the monies collected from court fees have not been able to make up this yawning gap in funding. In supporting this bill you will have taken an important step to ensure that the poor will have the necessary funds for legal services.

Connecticut Bar Foundation, James T. Shearin, President: Supports this bill. Since 2008 the trust account to fund legal services for the poor has fallen from $20 to $2 million. This bill will help the Foundation to continue providing these services to the poor.

New Haven Legal Assistance Association, Inc., Ben Solnit President: Supports this bill. Legal aid staff provides services to thousands of low-income Connecticut residents in crisis every year. Due to ongoing reductions in our primary sources of funding for legal aid attempts to cope by restructuring advocacy efforts, instituted unpaid furlough days, constant fundraising and attrition, we continue to face severe projected budget deficits that create a need for improved funding to avoid further cuts in staffing and services.

George W. Crawford Black Bar Association, Genea O. Bell, Esq., President: Supports this bill. 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 a wide ranging variety of legal services. The need for such legal services continues to grow and this bill would ensure a steady and reliable source of funding for these services.

The South Asian Bar Association of Connecticut, Sheila Charmoy, President: Supports this bill. Legal aid programs reduce the number of unrepresented people flooding the courts, and help marshal pro bono legal help for the poor from the private bar. Reductions in legal services will increase costs in other safety net programs and delay access to everyone who needs access to our courts.

Connecticut Bar Association, Bill Clendenen, President: Supports this bill. This proposed bill is an effective way to make funds available to provide attorneys to Connecticut's economically disadvantaged without additional cost to Connecticut's taxpayers or attorneys in the private sector. The second part of the bill proposes to amend a series of statutes governing court filing fees by making slight increases in those fees.

Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Liza Andrews, Director of Public Policy and Communications: Supports this bill. Legal aid is a key partner in meeting the needs of domestic violence victims across the state. While our 18 member organizations can provide guidance on the court process, they are rarely able to provide legal advice due to funding restrictions. The network of legal aid attorneys is critical to ensuring that victims have the representation they need when seeking remedies through the civil/family court.

Emergency Aid Association, Suffield, Ct., Patricia Beeman,MSW Community Outreach Coordinator: Supports this bill. As a social worker in Connecticut for over 35 years she has helped many people in various situations including domestic violence, immigration, health, and elder law issue. She stressed the importance of the Legal Aid Associations in Connecticut and the important work that they do.

Christian Activities Council, Hartford, Connecticut, Cori Mackey, Executive Director: Supports this bill. Recounted the help she received from the Greater Hartford Legal Aid Assoc. in helping her find housing for displaced low income tenants of a city housing project. She stated that the Greater Hartford Legal Aid Association was critically important because they taught residents about their legal rights and helped our organizers understand the law and the benefits each resident was entitled to receive under the law.

Kim Smith, Jenny Matthews, Martha Mendez, Genoveva Arias Webster, Dawn Odour, Daixy Pinto, Jesseri Estrada, Jamey Bell, Wilnelia Bianchi, Peter Adorno, Stephenie Alicea, Dennis M. Cahill: Support this bill. The aforementioned citizens all submitted written testimony about the different situations where they were helped by various legal aid organizations. The stated they were helped in a wide variety of situations: domestic abuse, housing matters, custody issues, child support matters and other situations in which they were unable to afford to pay for legal services.

NATURE AND SOURCES OF OPPOSITION:

None Submitted

Reported by: George Marinelli

April 6, 2016