Equal Justice Coalition, Politics, State Funding

Happy First Week of the 2018 Legislative Session

By Jay Doran

The 2018 State Legislative Session officially began earlier this week, on Monday, January 8. As you may know, this year’s session is a “short” session, meaning it is only scheduled to last for 60 days.

Last year, with the hard work and support of advocates from around the state, we secured a $4.8 million increase in civil legal aid funding. By adding fifteen new attorneys to the delivery system and expanding pro bono services, this new funding will help thousands more low-income Washingtonians address their civil legal issues. Thanks to all for standing up for equal justice.

With last year’s momentum behind us, the Equal Justice Coalition is advocating for the Legislature to increase legal aid funding by an additional $2.8 million during this session. This new money would be another significant step in fulfilling the Civil Justice Reinvestment Plan – our community’s approach to create meaningful access to civil legal aid.

In the coming weeks, the EJC will send out Action Alerts, asking you to contact your legislators about the importance of increasing legal aid funding. Stay tuned, and please continue to engage and advocate! Every time we talk to legislators, we are reminded that when they hear from their constituents, they are moved to take action. Conversely, regardless of the importance of the issue, when legislators are not getting calls, emails, and letters from their constituents, they move on to other priorities. The loudest voices in Olympia are the ones that get heard.

This year, our plan is to provide Session Updates every two to three weeks. These updates are intended to highlight the progress of civil legal aid funding and other legislative issues that are most relevant to low-income communities. Here’s your first Session Update:

  • On Tuesday, the Senate Law & Justice Committee held a hearing on Senate Bill 6041. SB 6041 proposes changes to the statute governing the Office of Civil Legal Aid. This bill would broaden eligible uses of state civil legal aid funding to include (but not limited to) consumer financial protections, medical debt, employment issues, discrimination, and individuals living with DACA protections. The amendments would allow state funding to address the most pressing civil legal issues outlined in the 2015 Civil Legal Needs Study. On Thursday, the House Judiciary Committee heard the companion version of this bill (HB 2308).
  • Of particular interest, the House reintroduced three bills on Monday with implications for low-income families. All three passed the House last year but died in the Senate.

o   HB 1783 eliminates interest accrued on legal financial obligations (LFOs) while an individual is incarcerated, provides options for LFO repayment plans, and limits courts from arresting individuals who cannot pay their LFOs. HB 1783 was passed by the House today and now waits Senate approval.

o   HB 1239 ensures free access to personal health care records for individuals appealing their case after being denied disability benefits. HB 1239 made it out of committee today and is headed to the House Floor for a vote.

o   HB 1831 increases the cap families can save by $3,000 while still being eligible to receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits. The House Appropriations Committee will hold a public hearing on the bill on Wednesday, January 17.

Lastly, the Office of Civil Legal Aid recently released an inspiring video about the impact and importance of civil legal aid. This is a good reminder of why we do this work and why access to justice is crucial to the health and well-being of our state.

Thank you for all that you do to support civil legal aid in Washington, and the needs of our low-income communities. With your help, we look forward to another year of progress.