Monthly Archives: May 2018

BBA Budget Priorities in the Senate FY 19 Budget

Following the Governor’s proposed budget, and the House budget, the Massachusetts Senate debated the Ways and Means Committee’s budget this week. Thank you, again, to all who responded to our ask and reached out to your Senator, urging them to support key amendments related to access to justice and criminal justice reform.  Here’s where things stand now:

Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC)

We’ve made the case for adequate funding for MLAC, the largest provider of funding for legal services programs in the state, many times over. As you’ll recall, this year we are asking for a $5 million increase in the MLAC budget line-item (#0321-1600), for a total appropriation of $23 million. The Governor proposed an $18.18 million appropriation, while the final House budget appropriated $20.75 million. The Senate Ways and Means budget recommended a $19 million appropriation.

Senator Cynthia Creem and Senator William Brownsberger filed an amendment (#992) asking for an additional $4 million, later redrafting the request to seek a $2 million instead. The final Senate Budget approved of the revised amendment, making the total appropriation $21 million. This represents a $3 million (or 17%) increase over the current year’s appropriation of $18 million. We are very grateful to the continued leadership for Senators Creem and Brownsberger, and the more than 25 co-sponsors of amendment #992. The House/Senate budget conference committee will be tasked with setting the final figure in the budget that goes to the Governor in the coming weeks, with the expectation that it will be somewhere between $20.75 million (the House figure) and $21 million (the Senate figure).

Statewide Housing Court Expansion

As you know by now, we were part of the coalition calling for statewide expansion of the Housing Court for years, and we were thrilled when funding and authorizing language for the expansion was included in last year’s FY18 budget. However, for the expansion to be successful, the full panoply of benefits must be afforded to all residents of the Commonwealth, so the Housing Court must be adequately staffed and include the important parallel expansion of programs like Lawyer for the Day and the Tenancy Preservation Program (TPP), which provides a unique intervention that enables trained counselors to assist with services in cases involving persons with disabilities, helping to prevent homelessness and shelter stays. In light of this, we supported a $2.6 million appropriation for line-item 0336-0003, which would fully fund Housing Court expansion, and a $1.3 million appropriation for line-item 7004-3045, which would fully fund the TPP.

Governor Baker, a long-time supporter of statewide expansion, proposed the full $2.6 million, while the House Budget appropriated $1.5 million. We are happy to report that the Senate Ways and Means budget recognized the importance of this expansion and also recommended the full $2.6 million appropriation, which made its way into the final Senate budget. The final House budget would add $250,000 to the Governor’s proposed $500,000 for the TPP line-item, and the Senate Ways and Means Budget also recommended $750,000.

A big thanks goes out to Senator Julian Cyr, who filed amendment #791, seeking to fully fund the TPP with a $1.3 million appropriation, and we are happy to report that the final Senate budget included the full appropriation! We will urge the conference committee to use that amount in their final budget.

Trial Court

We also know just how important it is that the Trial Court as a whole  receive adequate funding, and we are, as usual, advocating for the department’s maintenance funding request and their additional modules that will further enhance efficiencies and improve the user experience.

For the FY19 Budget, the Trial Court is requesting a maintenance-level appropriation of $671.1 million. The Governor’s Budget went some way towards this maintenance funding, and the final House budget included the full maintenance request. As we did the House, we urged the Senate to ensure this essential branch of government receives the funding it needs to offer adequate access to justice for the residents of the Commonwealth, and we are grateful the Senate recognized the importance of this ask and also provided the full maintenance request in their budget.

Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS)

We continue to advocate for fully funding CPCS operations in the FY19 budget, through a series of line-items (0321-1500, 0321-1510, 0321-1520). As you know, CPCS plays a vital role in our judicial system, providing representation to indigent persons in all criminal and some civil cases and administrative proceedings, in keeping with the right to counsel under our laws and the Constitutions of Massachusetts and the United States.

The House budget did recognize the importance of CPCS’s role, and though the direct appropriation did not match CPCS’s full $257.78 million ask, which the BBA supports, it significantly increased the appropriation for compensation paid to private counsel. The Senate budget also offered  important additional improvements, including a specific measure to increase salaries for public defenders. We hope, and we’ll be asking, the conference committee to also recognize the importance of CPCS and provide it adequate funding in the final budget.

Residential Re-Entry Services

As you may have seen in our recent advocacy alert, we added an additional item to our budget ask in the Senate: funding for residential re-entry services to reduce recidivism. (Check out our letter to the Senate, where we provide more detail as to just why this line-item is so important). Massachusetts recently took a huge leap towards ensuring our criminal justice system is more fair and effective. While there is much to celebrate, there is still much to be done. Each year thousands of Massachusetts residents are released from jails and prisons, many with little or no resources to help in securing essential needs like employment and housing.

Because of this, the BBA recommended in its report, No Time to Wait, that the state “ensure adequate funding and accountability for anti-recidivism efforts.” One step towards this is through line-item 0339 -1011, which would offer funding for community-based residential reentry services that provide housing, workforce development, and case management for recently released individuals, fostering connections and stability for those re-entering the community.

While the House budget proposed a $3 million appropriation for this line-item, it did not appear in the Senate Ways and Means budget. With the BBA’s support, Senator Brownsberger filed an amendment seeking $5 million toward these important services, but it was not adopted in the final Senate budget, so now, it’s on to the conference committee, which we will urge to at least incorporate the House’s language, so that these worthy programs can secure state funding.

Stay on the lookout for more action alerts — we may still need your help to make sure these important items are adequately funded in 2018!

—Alexa Daniel
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association

BBA Council Endorses Civics Education and Financial Literacy Bills

Two important pieces of legislation with broad, bipartisan support are currently making their way through the Massachusetts Legislature, having passed the Senate last month. The bills, one that will incorporate civics education into public school curricula and one that would create standards for teaching financial literacy that could be deployed in schools throughout the Commonwealth, were both endorsed by the BBA Council at their April Meeting.

The BBA is proud to be able to voice its support as the legislation is taken up by the House!

Financial Literacy

Under Senate Bill 2374, An Act Relative to Financial Literacy in Schools, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education would develop financial literacy standards that could then be adopted into existing school curricula. The Department would also be tasked with making resources publicly available, consulting with experts for insight into the best materials and best methods of instructions. The bill would further revive an advisory committee established in 2012 to create and oversee a pilot program related to financial literacy for students. That Committee will work in consultation with individuals with relevant experience, including bankruptcy attorneys, to develop and implement the standards.

There is a long history of support for, and active engagement in, financial literacy education here at the BBA. In 2005, the Joint Bankruptcy Court and BBA Task Force on Financial Literacy for Students released a report documenting the need for financial literacy education. As part of that report, the Task Force proposed a program for providing this crucial financial literacy education to public school students. That ultimately spearheaded the launch of the M. Ellen Carpenter Financial Literacy Program, now in its 13th year. To date, the program has reached over 6,200 students and engaged over 1,500 volunteer attorneys across the state. As part of the program, attorneys teach three classroom sessions: one on personal finances and budgeting, another on using credit and credit cards, and the third on financing large purchases. Then, some students are able to take a field trip to the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, where they observe, and sometimes participate in, mock hearings.

The BBA is delighted to have offered this education to so many, and we stand ready to offer the expertise gleaned over the past 13 years to help expand that offering so that one day no students in the Commonwealth are denied an opportunity to learn invaluable skills that will help to ensure their future financial outlook.

Civics Education

Senate Bill 2375, An Act to Promote and Enhance Civic Engagement, requires that the Board of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education ensure all public schools provide instructions in civics. The broad scope of that instruction tracks current statutory guidance on matters to be covered, including the constitutions of the U.S. and the Commonwealth, the Bill of Rights, and local history. However, it also expounds in more detail on what the Department should ensure any civics framework includes, specifically noting things like “the roles and responsibilities of a citizen in a democracy, the development of media literacy skills…community diversity and the role it plays in the democratic process,” and “knowledge of the ways in which civic participation has been restricted throughout history.”

In addition, the bill requires every public school student to have the opportunity to participate in at least two student-led civics projects, including one that must be completed after the 8th grade and is a high school graduation requirement. The nature of the projects themselves is quite flexible; they can be class-wide, individual, or small group. In addition, the legislation expounds on a number of other initiatives, including “civics challenges” where students will be able to enter their projects into competition and “regional civic councils” to monitor the development of the curriculum and provide additional resources. Many of these are dependent on adequate funding, which is not specifically appropriated in the legislation, though it does call for the creation of a Civics Project Fund that would be funded by legislative appropriation and private sources (subject to certain restrictions).

This week, BBA President Mark Smith of Laredo & Smith LLP sent a letter to Chair William Galvin of the House Committee on Rules, where the bill currently sits, expressing our support. That letter cited recent, alarming research that documented the lack of understanding many Americans have about basic government processes and institutions. For example, one-in-five believed that a 5-4 Supreme Court decision is returned to Congress for reconsideration. A lack of understanding of the function of our courts can make the judiciary susceptible to partisan attacks that undermine necessary faith in the judiciary as the third co-equal branch of government. Retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice David H. Souter noted, in 2009, that the biggest threat to judicial independence is a “public majority unaware of the basic shape of the government.”

In the letter, President Smith urges passage of the measures and offers BBA support in development and implementation of an enhanced civics curriculum, noting:

The provision of civics education in public schools will ensure the next generation understands the role of all parts and functions of the government, sustaining confidence in the key institutions of a constitutional democracy, including the courts, the jury, and other critical aspects of our justice system.

The BBA is proud to support S.2375 and S.2374, and we hope the House will take the opportunity to empower the youth of Massachusetts to secure their best futures.

—Alexa Daniel
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association

BBA Law Day Dinner 2018 Recap

Guest Post: Jack Caplan is the current Lawyer Referral Service Co-op Intern at the BBA. Jack is a sophomore at Northeastern University studying Politics, Philosophy, and Economics.

The BBA’s Law Day Dinner is held annually to celebrate the rule of law and those who step up to protect it and ensure that it remains an important institution of our democracy. Over 800 guests – a crowd made up of attorneys, elected officials, students, business leaders, members of the judiciary – joined us last week to acknowledge our shared values. We heard from, and celebrated, individuals who stand unwavering in their belief in access to justice for all.

To kick off the event, BBA President Mark Smith, a founding partner of Laredo & Smith, LLP, spoke about the BBA’s year so far.  In  the first four months of the calendar year, we filed three Amicus briefs. In Commonwealth v. Lutskov, we argued against adult mandatory minimums being imposed on juveniles. In U.S. v. Brian Joyce, we have continued our longstanding efforts to protect attorney-client  privilege. In Committee for Public Counsel Services v. Attorney General, we argued in favor of measures to prevent future misconduct  on the scale of Amherst Drug Lab Chemist Sonja Farak’s behavior.

We also have our members and staff to thank for their tireless lobbying for the passage of Massachusetts’s new overhaul of the criminal justice system. Following a detailed report which was the labor of months of research by our Criminal Justice Reform Working Group, the BBA published No Time to Wait: Recommendations for a Fair and Effective Criminal Justice System. In his remarks, Smith emphasized how thrilled we were to see so many of our recommendations incorporated into the version that Governor Baker signed just a few weeks ago.  The next steps, he informed the packed room, include the BBA’s pilot Service Innovation Project, which will focus on the school-to-prison pipeline.

Smith then presented the BBA’s Thurgood Marshall Award, which honors private-practice attorneys for pro bono work. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Vice President & General Counsel Donald Savery accepted the award on behalf of the company’s legal department, for representing six children who came to the United States from Central America as unaccompanied minors. The pro bono project is a partnership with Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), and AZULatinx, an employee resource group for Latinx staff members within Blue Cross.  The team of attorneys, paralegals, and other staffers are doing all that they can to help these children start on a legal path to U.S. citizenship.

Smith also presented Prisoners’ Legal Services Executive Director Leslie Walker with the John G. Brooks Legal Services Award for her nonstop work to ensure that incarcerated people are treated with dignity and respect.  Over her 17 years at the organization (soon coming to an end, as her retirement date approaches), Walker has lobbied, advocated, litigated, taught, and led a small but impactful staff to a series of meaningful victories.  Walker has  educated legislators and the public alike about inhumane treatment in prisons including solitary confinement, and the shackling of mothers giving birth.  In her remarks, Walker urged guests not to  adopt an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ mentality about prisoners.

The BBA has a long a vibrant history of advocating for public policy change at the local, state, and federal level, and no matter how many engaged members or dedicated staff we have, most of these changes simply wouldn’t be possible without the support of the elected officials who  cast the vote.  That’s why we were proud to present Massachusetts State Senator Cynthia Creem with this year’s Distinguished Legislator Award. Senator Creem, the current Majority Leader in the State Senate, has spent over 30 years in various public offices, and said that serving on the conference committee for the recent criminal justice reform bill made her incredibly proud. She decried that for too many years the focus was only on punishment and not rehabilitation. What’s critical, she informed the crowd, is that we consider both the crime’s impact and the underlying causes that led the perpetrator to commit it. The reforms laid forth in the new law are moving Massachusetts ever closer to that ideal of justice.

To round off the evening, Adrian Walker gave a keynote speech, which focused mostly on his contributions to the Boston Globe’s recent series on race in Boston. As a columnist for the Globe’s Metro section since 1998, Walker has watched Boston evolve in many ways and remain stagnant in others. When first approached about working with the Spotlight Team on the series, Walker began thinking about the fact that Boston is a majority-minority city, but doesn’t feel like it. Many people want to think that Boston has moved beyond the ugly and virulent racism of the anti-bussing violence from the 1970s, and although a lot of the outright violence has subsided, racism has manifested and embedded itself in other ways.

The series covered sports, hospitals, colleges, power (including the practice of law), and the buildup of a burgeoning Seaport neighborhood that has done little to involve the city’s black community. Walker alluded to a shocking but accurate statistic from the series – one which prompted some readers to call and ask whether the Globe had made a mistake. The household median net worth is almost $250,000 in Greater Boston for white families, but it is only $8 for black families.

While Walker’s remarks included many hard truths, he also shared that he is optimistic based on the story’s reception. He has found his fellow Bostonians ready to confront serious, but not insurmountable, challenges.

“Improving Boston’s racial reality is in all our hands,” Walker said, adding that the first step is simply to be vigilant and notice inequities around us.

Near the close of his speech, Walker shared words from Kenyatta Savage,  who was featured on the front page of the Globe as part of the series: “I’ve been talking to a wall for the last 20 years, and all of a sudden I feel like that wall has actually loosened so I can actually push it down,” he said. “You touched on some stuff that a lot of people have been going through. To use me as a cover [photo], it was like, ‘Thank you.’ ”

We would like to thank the evening’s attendees for joining us, and the event sponsors for their support.

Budget Update: House Approves FY19 Budget

Following the Governor’s proposed budget, and the House Ways and Means proposed budget, the Massachusetts House of Representatives approved its FY19 budget last week.  We want to extend a big thanks to all of you who responded to our call to action and reached out to your Representatives, urging them to support key access-to-justice amendments.

While we have already turned our attention to the Senate, sending a letter to the Senate Ways and Means Committee this week, here’s where things currently stand in relation to our BBA budget priorities.

Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC)

            We’ve made the case for adequate funding for MLAC, the largest provider of funding for legal services programs in the state, many times over.  Since 2014, this advocacy has relied on the BBA’s own Investing in Justice Report, which demonstrated the great need for legal aid, with nearly two-thirds of otherwise eligible individuals turned away due to a lack of resources, and revealed the great fiscal benefits of investing in legal aid, with millions of dollars saved by the State and millions more brought in by federal benefits.

Unfortunately, due to increasing demand and a lack of funding, nearly two-thirds of those seeking help, or 45,000 individuals, continue to be turned away each year. Plus, changes in federal policies on issues like immigration and cuts to anti-poverty programs, threaten to increase the demand even further, just as continuing challenges like the opioid crises and emerging issues like the resettlement of individuals impacted by Hurricane Maria and other natural disasters add to the burden borne by legal services. And the consequences of this lack of help can be devastating, as one’s family, home, health, and job can be at stake in civil legal matters. As mentioned, though, our Report also revealed that increasing funding for civil legal aid was not just critical for expanding access to justice, it also was a wise investment, and actually pays for itself, and more, by saving the state money on “back-end” costs such as emergency shelter, foster care, and health care.

This year, we are supporting MLAC’s ask for a $5 million increase in the MLAC budget line-item (#0321-1600), for a $23 million total appropriation.  Though an additional $5 million would still not come close to meeting the great need for civil legal aid, it would have tremendous impacts and allow for an additional 7,500 Massachusetts residents to receive this critical resource.

The Governor proposed an $18.18 million appropriation, while the final House budget appropriated $20.75 million. We are very grateful to the leadership of Representative Ruth Balser and Representative Clair Cronin, who filed an amendment for additional funding for civil legal aid, beyond the $2 million increase provided by Ways and Means, and the more than 100 co-sponsors, who made the additional $750,000 achieved in the amendment process possible!

Statewide Housing Court Expansion

As you know by now, we were part of the coalition calling for statewide expansion of the Housing Court for nearly four years, and we were thrilled when funding and authorizing language for the expansion was included in last year’s FY18 budget.

This expansion means that the 84 cities and towns that previously lacked access—representing nearly a third of the state’s population—now enjoy the many advantages Housing Court has to offer. This includes judges who have specialized knowledge on all, often complex housing law matters, housing specialists who help tenants and landlords settle and mediate cases, and the Lawyer for the Day program which offers assistance for unrepresented tenants and landlords who otherwise cannot afford it. In addition, the Tenancy Preservation Program (TPP) provides a unique intervention that enables trained counselors to assist with services in cases involving persons with disabilities, helping to prevent homelessness and shelter stays.

In order for the full gamut of benefits to be expanded statewide, the Housing Court must be adequately staffed and include the important parallel expansion of programs like the TPP and Lawyer for the Day. As such, we are supporting a $2.6 million appropriation for line-item 0336-0003, which would fully fund Housing Court expansion, and a $1.3 million appropriation for line-item 7004-3045, which would fully fund the TPP.

Governor Baker, who has long been a leader on ensuring expansion of the Court, proposed full-funding for expansion, while the House budget appropriates $1.5 million. The TPP line-item fared a bit better in the final House budget, resulting in an increase of $250,000 from the Governor’s proposed $500,000. A special thanks goes to the leadership of Rep. Chris Walsh, who filed an amendment on the expansion line-item and Rep. Byron Rushing, who filed an amendment on the TPP line-item.  We hope the Senate will continue to prioritize the expansion of these important measures this year.

Trial Court

We also know just how important it is that the Trial Court receives adequate funding, and we are continuing our advocacy in support of the department’s maintenance funding request and their additional modules that will further enhance efficiencies and improve the user experience.

The Trial Court is comprised of seven departments, which handle nearly all of the cases in the Commonwealth and represent the main point of contact for Massachusetts residents who have legal issues they need resolved. In spite of steady increases in their appropriations in the years since the Great Recession, the Trial Court remains underfunded. Over the last few years, it has made great strides in finding ways to work smarter and leverage technological advancements to get more done with less. As a result of this work, they have been able to continue the efficient and effective operation of the courts, even with a 19% reduction in staffing since FY02.

Notwithstanding the success of these transformational efforts, the Trial Court still has a major need for increased funding to sustain and continue the progress made in recent years. For example, the Trial Court’s facilities are in dire need of upgrades in the area of security systems. These upgrades are necessary to preserve the safety of court employees, users, and the general public, ensuring the Trial Court remains effective and accessible for all residents of the Commonwealth.

For the FY19 Budget, the Trial Court is requesting a maintenance-level appropriation of $671.1 million. The Governor’s Budget went some way towards this maintenance funding, and the final House budget included the full maintenance request.  We have urged the Senate to ensure this essential branch of government receives the funding it needs to offer adequate access to justice for the residents of the Commonwealth.

Committee for Public Counsel Services

Finally, we continue to advocate for fully funding CPCS operations in the FY19 budget, through a series of line-items (0321-1500, 0321-1510, 0321-1520).  As you know, CPCS plays a vital role in our judicial system, providing representation to indigent persons in all criminal and some civil cases and administrative proceedings, in keeping with the right to counsel under our laws and the Constitutions of Massachusetts and the United States. Adequate funding would help CPCS to increase salaries of their staff attorneys, who are woefully underpaid in comparison to their colleagues in other states, and to attorneys of similar experience in the executive branch. This is not merely our conclusion but that of the Commission to Study Compensation of Assistant District Attorneys and Staff Attorneys of the Committee for Public Counsel Services. The BBA supports the Commission’s recommendation that minimum salaries for these attorneys (as well as for Assistant District Attorneys) be increased, over time, to match the corresponding minimums for executive branch attorneys.

 

Inclusion of adequate funding for CPCS in the FY19 budget is especially critical because the state faces what the Chief Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court has called a “constitutional emergency.” In cases where a child is facing removal from parental custody, the parents and children have a right to representation at a hearing within 72 hours. There are too few attorneys taking up these cases, and as a result, children and parents, especially in the western parts of the state, are being denied their constitutional right to a timely hearing. Adequate funding, in conjunction with an increase in compensation for bar advocates, or private attorneys who defend indigent clients, would assist CPCS in finding attorneys willing to take on these difficult cases and protect the constitutional rights of these parents and children.

The House Budget seemed to recognize some of these crucial needs by significantly increasing the appropriation for compensation paid to private counsel. However, the direct appropriation still falls quite short of CPCS’s $257.78 million ask, and we hope the Senate will support CPCS this full amount and help to ensure the agency is able to efficiently and effectively provide their necessary services.

Stay tuned for more opportunities to support the judiciary and equal access to justice as the budget debates continue!

—Alexa Daniel
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association