Legislature(2015 - 2016)CAPITOL 120

04/07/2015 01:30 PM JUDICIARY

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* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
-- Please Note Day & Time Change --
Moved HB 154 Out of Committee
-- Public Testimony --
Moved CSHB 106(STA) Out of Committee
-- Public Testimony --
+ Bills Previously Heard/Scheduled TELECONFERENCED
<Bill Hearing Canceled>
-- Public Testimony --
Heard & Held
-- Public Testimony --
                HB 154-CIVIL LEGAL SERVICES FUND                                                                            
1:36:15 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR LEDOUX announced that the  first order of business would be                                                               
HOUSE BILL NO. 154. "An  Act allowing appropriations to the civil                                                               
legal services fund from court filing fees."                                                                                    
CHAIR  LEDOUX stated  that she  has a  conflict of  interest with                                                               
respect to  this bill  in that  she sits on  the Board  of Alaska                                                               
Legal Services  Corporation and unless someone  objects, she will                                                               
recuse herself from voting.                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE KELLER objected.                                                                                                 
1:36:40 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE  CLAMAN advised  that his  firm performs  pro bono                                                               
services for  the Alaska Legal  Services Corporation (ALSC)  on a                                                               
monthly basis.                                                                                                                  
CHAIR LEDOUX objected.                                                                                                          
1:37:28 PM                                                                                                                    
TIM  CLARK,  Staff,  Representative Bryce  Edgmon,  Alaska  State                                                               
Legislature,  said the  bill  safe guards  access  to low  income                                                               
Alaskans  to  the  civil  justice system  by  creating  a  stable                                                               
mechanism  for   state  funding  for  ALSC.     Specifically,  he                                                               
explained,  it  allows  the legislature  to  appropriate  to  the                                                               
already existing  civil legal services  fund up to 25  percent of                                                               
filing fees paid  to the Alaska Court System  during the previous                                                               
fiscal  year.   He  said  that according  to  current filing  fee                                                               
totals, 25 percent would  provide approximately $550,000 annually                                                               
to  the  fund.    He  noted   that  it  will  always  be  at  the                                                               
legislature's discretion  to appropriate that percentage  of fees                                                               
both into  the fund and to  make appropriations from the  fund to                                                               
ALSC.  He offered that this  is necessary because the Civil Legal                                                               
Services Fund was originally designed  to be capitalized by civil                                                               
punitive damages collected by the  state.  However, he noted, the                                                               
state  has not  collected punitive  damages in  three years.   He                                                               
advised that the need for state  contributions to ALSC is real as                                                               
in the  past 30 years the  number of Alaskans eligible  for legal                                                               
services has more than doubled  from approximately 41,000 to more                                                               
than 100,000.   Yet, he  related, even  with HB 154,  the state's                                                               
contribution to  ALSC is a fraction  of what it was  decades ago.                                                               
Currently,  he   said,  the  appropriation  from   the  state  is                                                               
approximately $450,000.   Access  to ALSC  is that  civil justice                                                               
should not  just be  for people  who can  afford an  attorney and                                                               
that HB 154  is important to ascertain that in  Alaska the phrase                                                               
"justice for all" rings true.                                                                                                   
1:40:58 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR LEDOUX referred to the  zero fiscal note and questioned how                                                               
there  could  be a  zero  fiscal  note  when the  legislature  is                                                               
appropriating court fees  to ALSC, which would  otherwise go into                                                               
the general fund.                                                                                                               
MR.  CLARK responded  that  the  fiscal note  was  issued by  the                                                               
Alaska Court System which states  that currently all legal filing                                                               
fees or court  fees go directly into the general  fund, and there                                                               
has never  been any  receipt authority or  any mechanism  of that                                                               
sort for the Alaska Court System.   The zero fiscal note pertains                                                               
specifically  to  their  operations.   He  said  the  legislature                                                               
always retains  discretion in  its appropriations  as to  how the                                                               
funds are  eventually spent  or not  spent.   In that  regard, he                                                               
explained, it would be the  legislature's decision to appropriate                                                               
those filing  fee percentages  into the fund  and in  turn, their                                                               
decision  as to  whether to  appropriate from  the fund  to civil                                                               
legal services.                                                                                                                 
CHAIR LEDOUX opened public testimony.                                                                                           
1:43:08 PM                                                                                                                    
NIKOLE   NELSON,  Executive   Director,  Alaska   Legal  Services                                                               
Corporation (ALSC),  said the  Alaska Legal  Services Corporation                                                               
(ALSC)  is aimed  at reducing  Alaska's civil  justice gap.   She                                                               
explained that ALSC  through its more than  20 attorneys provides                                                               
free civil legal  aid to Alaskans in need.   She pointed out that                                                               
its mission is  to ensure that there is meaningful  access to the                                                               
civil justice system for all Alaskans  and not just those who can                                                               
afford it.   Assistance is  provided to individuals  and families                                                               
regarding critical  legal needs that affect  their safety, family                                                               
stability, and their self-sufficiency.   She described scenarios,                                                               
such as: a grandparent raising  their grandchildren who is unable                                                               
to enroll them  in school or to receive health  care because they                                                               
lack legal  documents to do  so; an  abused spouse that  does not                                                               
have  the financial  means to  leave the  relationship and  fears                                                               
losing custody of  her children if she does; a  fisherman who has                                                               
spent his  life savings to have  his boat repaired by  an out-of-                                                               
state mechanic  only to have it  return and catch on  fire in the                                                               
prime of  fishing season with no  recourse to continue to  earn a                                                               
living;  and/or a  veteran denied  his  federal veterans  affairs                                                               
benefits despite the fact he  has earned them through his service                                                               
to this country  and his disability leaves him unable  to work in                                                               
his  rural community.    She  noted that  there  are civil  legal                                                               
solutions for  these problems, but unlike  a criminal defendant's                                                               
guarantee  that  the  court  will  appoint  an  attorney  if  the                                                               
defendant cannot  afford an attorney,  there is no such  right in                                                               
the  civil legal  context.    She related  that  for people  like                                                               
these,  and thousands  like  them,  ALSC is  their  only hope  to                                                               
access Alaska's civil legal services.   She pointed out that each                                                               
year,  approximately  2,500  cases  are  served  and  benefit  an                                                               
additional 6,000 people  as most the people  served have children                                                               
in  their  households.   The  Alaska  Legal Services  Corporation                                                               
provides  staff attorneys  and volunteer  pro bono  attorneys who                                                               
donate  their time  and expertise.   She  noted that  ALSC serves                                                               
thousands more  within its self-help resources,  and on-line, and                                                               
through  community education  services to  ensure that  access to                                                               
the  justice system  is a  reality for  rural residents  as well.                                                               
She related  that the problem is  that, despite the fact  ALSC is                                                               
stretching its legal resources, it  is not able to serve everyone                                                               
and it is  turning away one person for every  one that is served.                                                               
Ms. Nelson  indicated that  people are  turned away,  not because                                                               
there are  no laws to protect  them, and not because  their cases                                                               
lack  merit,  but  because  ALSC  does not  have  the  staff  and                                                               
resources to help.                                                                                                              
1:46:41 PM                                                                                                                    
MS. NELSON related  that HB 154 is aimed  at providing additional                                                               
resources to bridging  Alaska's justice gap.   She described ALSC                                                               
as being  cost efficient  and effective in  that an  average case                                                               
costs  approximately $600.  She explained  that approximately  80                                                               
percent of  its cases are  resolved without ever going  to court,                                                               
and attorneys are paid far below  the market rate for private bar                                                               
or  state attorneys.    She expressed  that  last year  volunteer                                                               
attorneys donated  almost $500,000  in their  time.   She offered                                                               
that ALSC  is doing  what it can  but it is  not enough  to stand                                                               
against the justice gap alone.                                                                                                  
1:48:07 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE  GRUENBERG asked  whether  ALSC is  on the  "pick-                                                               
click-and give" program.                                                                                                        
MS. NELSON answered in the affirmative.                                                                                         
REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG offered that  in other states within bar                                                               
dues  a person  can give  an  additional donation,  and asked  if                                                               
there is a similar program in Alaska.                                                                                           
MS. NELSON answered in the affirmative.                                                                                         
REPRESENTATIVE  GRUENBERG requested  the  current  status of  pro                                                               
bono which has been under ALSC in the past.                                                                                     
MS. NELSON  answered that previously  and currently pro  bono has                                                               
been under  ALSC.  She described  the pro bono program  as strong                                                               
and it assists in stretching ALSC resources.                                                                                    
1:49:19 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG questioned that  with respect to HB 154,                                                               
if the money goes to the ALSC, would  some of that be sent to pro                                                               
MS.  NELSON answered  that  it  could use  its  state dollars  to                                                               
extend its resources  and it is possible but  not guaranteed that                                                               
it could go to pro bono.                                                                                                        
REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG  surmised there  was nothing  to prevent                                                               
the state dollars going to pro bono.                                                                                            
MS. NELSON said there is nothing to prevent it.                                                                                 
REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG quiered whether  pro bono has a separate                                                               
funding source or would this be the mechanism.                                                                                  
MS. NELSON responded that the  pro bono program is funded through                                                               
a variety  of sources that fund  the entire program, and  this is                                                               
the proper mechanism.                                                                                                           
1:50:17 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG  asked whether  Ms. Nelson  was familiar                                                               
with Dimmick v. Watts, 490 P.2d 483 (Alaska 1971).                                                                            
MS. NELSON said she was not.                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG  described it as  a case wherein  one of                                                               
the litigants was sued by a  company for debt and that person was                                                               
represented by ALSC.   He said that the attorney  for the company                                                               
attempted to  get into  the question of  whether that  person was                                                               
eligible for  legal services.  He  related that the case  went to                                                               
the Alaska  Supreme Court  who said  "you cannot  inquire whether                                                               
this person is eligible for legal services."                                                                                    
1:51:18 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR  LEDOUX  interjected  "Where  exactly are  you  going  with                                                               
REPRESENTATIVE  GRUENBERG replied  "I am  going because  we don't                                                               
very often have a bill dealing with legal services."                                                                            
CHAIR LEDOUX said  this is not a seminar on  legal services, this                                                               
is basically to  determine whether ALSC should  be funded through                                                               
this  particular  mechanism.     She  asked  that  Representative                                                               
Gruenberg limit his  questions to the subject of  the bill before                                                               
the committee.                                                                                                                  
REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG  offered that he is  trying to ascertain                                                               
whether  that  is  still  a  problem  and  whether  legislatively                                                               
something should be done.                                                                                                       
CHAIR LEDOUX  remarked that if there  is a problem that  needs to                                                               
be tended  legislatively that  has nothing to  do with  this bill                                                               
she   was  sure   Ms.  Nelson   would  be   glad  to   talk  with                                                               
Representative Gruenberg at another time,  and he could prepare a                                                               
bill on the issue.                                                                                                              
1:52:07 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG  advised his second question  deals with                                                               
circumstances where ALSC is conflicted out.                                                                                     
CHAIR LEDOUX  reiterated that he  should chat with Ms.  Nelson as                                                               
to whether she thinks it is a  problem, but it is not the subject                                                               
of this particular bill.                                                                                                        
1:52:36 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE FOSTER  commented that  the Native  Corporation in                                                               
Nome is contributing office space and  that ALSC is doing what it                                                               
can to  get by.  He  questioned how much it  received from "pick-                                                               
click-and give" in round numbers.                                                                                               
MS. NELSON related that the  tally is approximately $6,700, which                                                               
is up from approximately $5,000 last year.                                                                                      
REPRESENTATIVE  FOSTER  surmised  that  amount is  a  very  small                                                               
amount of its budget.                                                                                                           
MS.   NELSON   offered  that   its   total   overall  budget   is                                                               
approximately $4.2 million.                                                                                                     
1:53:27 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE  CLAMAN  surmised that  the  25  percent based  on                                                               
court fees this year would be roughly $500,000.                                                                                 
MS. NELSON advised that it is approximately $550,000.                                                                           
REPRESENTATIVE CLAMAN asked how that compares with prior years.                                                                 
MS. NELSON  requested clarification  in whether he  was referring                                                               
to prior years of court fees or the ALSC appropriation.                                                                         
REPRESENTATIVE CLAMAN clarified that  his question related to the                                                               
appropriation to ALSC.                                                                                                          
MS. NELSON  responded that in  prior years the  appropriation has                                                               
been $550,000.                                                                                                                  
1:54:11 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE CLAMAN  surmised that  the state  appropriation is                                                               
not the majority of funding.                                                                                                    
MS. NELSON answered in the affirmative.                                                                                         
REPRESENTATIVE CLAMAN  asked whether  part of the  reason between                                                               
using  this formula  based  on  court fees  rather  than using  a                                                               
population index or cost of  living index, is basically trying to                                                               
tie funding  to a  litigation related  fee.   He offered  that if                                                               
litigation  was going  up and  more people  were filing  that the                                                               
fees might go up.                                                                                                               
MS.  NELSON  opined  that  is  a   smart  idea  but  she  is  not                                                               
necessarily  sure that  was  the intent,  although  it does  make                                                               
1:55:03 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR LEDOUX requested  the amount of state funding  for the last                                                               
several years, and the funding amount from the state this year.                                                                 
MS. NELSON replied that state  funding for the last several years                                                               
has been  $550,000, and this  year the operating  budget proposed                                                               
by the Senate and House is  $450,000, which is approximately a 20                                                               
percent cut.                                                                                                                    
1:55:51 PM                                                                                                                    
NANCY  MEADE,  General Counsel,  Alaska  Court  System, said  the                                                               
Alaska Court  System is poised to  increase its filing fees  by a                                                               
good percentage.                                                                                                                
CHAIR LEDOUX asked what percentage.                                                                                             
MS. MEADE  responded that  it varies depending  upon the  fee for                                                               
the  item.   For example,  the current  filing fees  collected in                                                               
FY13  by the  Alaska Court  System was  $2,238,700, and  with the                                                               
increase in filing  fees expects it to go up  by another million.                                                               
In that  regard, she offered, the  25 percent number would  go up                                                               
by a corresponding order of magnitude.                                                                                          
1:57:12 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR LEDOUX questioned whether the  filing fees collected by the                                                               
Alaska Court System go into the general fund, or to the courts.                                                                 
MS. MEADE  replied that  all fees collected  by the  Alaska Court                                                               
System go straight  into the general fund, which is  why there is                                                               
no fiscal impact from HB 154.                                                                                                   
1:57:42 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE CLAMAN requested  amounts in terms of  what the 25                                                               
percent was for the last five years.                                                                                            
MS. MEADE  responded that with  regard to the 25  percent number:                                                               
FY14  =  $563,225; FY13  =  $559,675;  FY12  = $569,900;  FY11  =                                                               
$666,725; FY10 = $653,075.   She remarked that they vary somewhat                                                               
and the  committee can expect  those to  jump by another  half or                                                               
1:58:47 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG  questioned why  the fees  have recently                                                               
gone down.                                                                                                                      
MS. MEADE said  she does not have information on  that and should                                                               
not speculate.                                                                                                                  
CHAIR LEDOUX  closed public testimony  after ascertaining  no one                                                               
further wished to testify.                                                                                                      
1:59:50 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE  KELLER  moved  to  report  HB  154,  Version  29-                                                               
LS0765\A  out of  committee with  individual recommendations  and                                                               
the accompanying zero fiscal note.   There being no objection, HB
154 moved from the House Judiciary Standing Committee.                                                                          
2:01:05 PM                                                                                                                    
The committee took an at-ease from 2:01 to 2:03 p.m.                                                                            

Document Name Date/Time Subjects
HB 154 Support Letter ACoA.pdf HJUD 4/7/2015 1:30:00 PM
HB 154
HB154 Additional Documentation--ALSC Restrictions Clarification.pdf HJUD 4/7/2015 1:30:00 PM
HB 154
HB154 Additional Documentation--Civil Legal Services Fact Sheet.pdf HJUD 4/7/2015 1:30:00 PM
HB 154
HB154 Fiscal Note - JUD.pdf HJUD 4/7/2015 1:30:00 PM
HB 154
HB154 Original Bill--Version A.pdf HJUD 4/7/2015 1:30:00 PM
HB 154
HB154 Sponsor Statement--Version A.pdf HJUD 4/7/2015 1:30:00 PM
HB 154
HB154 Support for Senate Companion Legislation--Alaska Commission on Aging.pdf HJUD 4/7/2015 1:30:00 PM
HB 154
HB154 Support for Senate Companion Legislation--Alaska Mental Health Board.pdf HJUD 4/7/2015 1:30:00 PM
HB 154
HB154 Support for Senate Companion Legislation--Governor's Council on Disabilities.pdf HJUD 4/7/2015 1:30:00 PM
HB 154
HB154 Support for Senate Companion Legislation--VCI.jpg HJUD 4/7/2015 1:30:00 PM
HB 154
CSHB106(STA) Brief Synopsis 032615.pdf HJUD 4/7/2015 1:30:00 PM
HB 106
HB106 Fiscal Note-0897-DOR-CSS-2-6-15.pdf HJUD 4/7/2015 1:30:00 PM
HB 106
HB106 Fiscal Note-JUD.pdf HJUD 4/7/2015 1:30:00 PM
HB 106
HB106 Fiscal Note-LAW.pdf HJUD 4/7/2015 1:30:00 PM
HB 106
HB106 Sectional Analysis - CSHB106(STA).pdf HJUD 4/7/2015 1:30:00 PM
HB 106
HB106 Sponsor Statement.pdf HJUD 4/7/2015 1:30:00 PM
HB 106
HB106 Supporting Document - Murkowksi Letter.pdf HJUD 4/7/2015 1:30:00 PM
HB 106
HB106 ver W.PDF HJUD 4/7/2015 1:30:00 PM
HB 106
SB30 v T.pdf HJUD 4/7/2015 1:30:00 PM
SB 30
CSSSB30 Draft Proposed v Q.pdf HJUD 4/7/2015 1:30:00 PM
SB 30
CSSB30(SFIN) Explanation of Changes.pdf HJUD 4/7/2015 1:30:00 PM
SB 30
CSSB30(FIN) Sectional Analysis Version T.pdf HJUD 4/7/2015 1:30:00 PM
SB 30