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