Equal Justice Coalition, Politics, State Funding

To Keep People out of Poverty, We Must Support Justice for All

By Kristin Parker

During the legislative session, we are constantly seeking to keep civil legal aid top-of-mind for legislators and policymakers, in an effort to better fund the critical work being done by our alliance of providers throughout the state.

Last Sunday, the Tri-City Herald published an op-ed entitled To Keep People out of Poverty, We Must Support ‘Justice for All’.  Co-authors Andy Miller (Benton County Prosecutor), Diana Ruff (Benton Franklin Bar President), and Barbara Otte (Director of Benton Franklin Legal Aid) illustrate why the state legislature needs to increase its investment in civil legal aid. They write:

[su_quote]We owe everyone in our state the chance to enforce their rights and live in a just society, not just those who can afford an attorney. The justice system works most effectively and humanely when there is an even playing field for all. And civil legal aid doesn’t only benefit those who receive that direct support; it creates a stronger and more vital Washington. When families’ civil legal issues are resolved, they can devote their energies to their jobs, their families and their communities. They can participate more fully in our economy and our democracy. [/su_quote]

This piece is a great example of how to communicate with lawmakers about the importance of civil legal aid. When we focus on values – such as justice for all and thriving communities – and we illustrate how legislation helps us live out those values, we create a compelling message for our lawmakers. Please check it out and share it with your networks.

This session, the EJC has been actively lobbying for a funding increase of civil legal aid.  Legislators will start rolling out their draft budget bills soon, but budget writers have not yet made any commitments.  Given the many competing requests for funding (including the Supreme Court’s order that the state speed up its timeline for fully funding primary education), an increase for civil legal aid during this session will be a heavy lift. In order to succeed, we need your help.

The House will release its draft supplemental budget first, in mid-February. At that time, we’ll send out an Action Alert – please be on the lookout, and please take a moment to contact your legislators at that time. Hearing directly from constituents is the single most powerful method of communication we have with our legislators.

In the meantime, below are a couple updates on the progress of bills that have implications for low-income communities.

  • HB 2308/SB 6041 – Concerning Civil Legal Aid – This bill would change the statute governing the Office of Civil Legal Aid to broaden the eligible uses of state civil legal aid funding, including but not limited to consumer financial protections, medical debt, employment issues, and discrimination. Last week, both the House and Senate versions of this bill passed out of the House Judiciary and Senate Law & Justice Committees, respectively. The House version of the bill (HB 2308) has been referred to the House Appropriations Committee. If it passes out of Appropriations, it will likely head to the House floor for a full vote.
  • HB 1783 – Concerning Legal Financial Obligations – This bill 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. This bill overwhelming passed in the House earlier this month and is now awaiting a hearing in the Senate Law & Justice Committee.

Thanks for the continued support of civil legal aid. Please stay tuned!