Legislature(2015 - 2016)SENATE FINANCE 532

03/25/2015 09:00 AM Senate FINANCE

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* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
+ SB 33 Presentation: Overview FY17 Operating Budget TELECONFERENCED
Heard & Held
Heard & Held
Heard & Held
+ Bills Previously Heard/Scheduled TELECONFERENCED
SENATE BILL NO. 49                                                                                                            
     "An Act allowing appropriations to the civil legal                                                                         
     services fund from court filing fees."                                                                                     
9:17:21 AM                                                                                                                    
GENEVIEVE WOJTUSIK, STAFF,  SENATOR LESIL MCGUIRE, discussed                                                                    
the intent of  the legislation. She explained  that the bill                                                                    
was  designed to  help fund  civil legal  services for  low-                                                                    
income  Alaskans, and  provide a  mechanism for  funding the                                                                    
Alaska  Legal Services  Corporation (ALSC)  by allowing  the                                                                    
legislature to appropriate  up to 25 percent  of filing fees                                                                    
paid to the  Alaska Court System during  the previous fiscal                                                                    
year. She  recounted that the  corporation was  a non-profit                                                                    
charitable 501(c)(3)  established in  1966 to  address civil                                                                    
legal aid need  of low-income Alaskans; and  was funded from                                                                    
a  variety  of  state,  federal, and  private  sources.  She                                                                    
specified  that the  bill had  a zero  fiscal note  from the                                                                    
court system.                                                                                                                   
Co-Chair  MacKinnon referred  to an  analysis on  the fiscal                                                                    
note,  and   remarked  that   currently  the   court  system                                                                    
collected  a   little  over  $2  million,   with  an  annual                                                                    
appropriation to the legal services  fund of up to $550,000.                                                                    
Ms. Wojtusik  reported that the  court system  had collected                                                                    
$2.252 million  the previous year,  with up to a  quarter of                                                                    
that  amount ($563,225)  allowed to  be appropriated  to the                                                                    
Co-Chair MacKinnon asked if the  legislature already had the                                                                    
ability  to appropriate  the funds.  Ms. Wojtusik  responded                                                                    
that legislature currently gave  money through the operating                                                                    
budget,  but did  not actually  designate funds  every year,                                                                    
which the bill would allow for.                                                                                                 
9:19:36 AM                                                                                                                    
Vice-Chair Micciche clarified that SB  49 did not require an                                                                    
appropriation,  but   rather  allowed  the   legislature  to                                                                    
appropriate  up  to  25  percent of  the  filing  fees.  Ms.                                                                    
Wojtusik concurred.                                                                                                             
Vice-Chair Micciche  suggested that  when the state  was not                                                                    
in a  compromised budget environment that  it currently was,                                                                    
it could appropriate funds to the legal services fund.                                                                          
Vice-Chair Micciche  expressed concern  that the  funds were                                                                    
used to fund abortions.                                                                                                         
NICOLE NELSON, DIRECTOR, ALASKA  LEGAL SERVICES, stated that                                                                    
federal  law   prohibited  any  funds  coming   through  the                                                                    
organization to be used  to fund abortion-related litigation                                                                    
or  other  controversial  areas such  as  clients  who  were                                                                    
undocumented or incarcerated.                                                                                                   
9:21:49 AM                                                                                                                    
Senator  Dunleavy asked  for a  description of  the services                                                                    
provided by  ALSC. Ms. Nelson  related that ALSC was  a non-                                                                    
profit law firm  that provided free legal  aid to low-income                                                                    
Alaskans  statewide.  She  added  that  the  firm  had  been                                                                    
operating for 45  years through 11 offices  located in urban                                                                    
and  rural  communities;  striving  to  serve  clients  with                                                                    
critical  unmet  civil  legal needs.  Ms.  Nelson  described                                                                    
typical scenarios under which  individuals might access ALSC                                                                    
services:   domestic  abuse/child   custody  issues;   child                                                                    
guardianship   rights   for  grandparents;   and   veteran's                                                                    
benefits  disputes. She  furthered  that  in criminal  cases                                                                    
individuals  were  guaranteed  a  court-appointed  attorney;                                                                    
whereas in the civil realm  there was no such guarantee. She                                                                    
specified  that ALSC  served about  2,500 people  each year,                                                                    
which ended up directly impacted about 6,000 families.                                                                          
Senator Dunleavy asked how the  bill would benefit ALSC. Ms.                                                                    
Nelson explained that currently  the organization was forced                                                                    
to turn  away half  of the  individuals seeking  legal help.                                                                    
The legislation  would help  with the  unmet legal  needs of                                                                    
those who  were turned  away due to  lack of  resources. She                                                                    
discussed  the  cost  efficiency  of  the  organization  and                                                                    
commented  that 80  percent of  cases were  resolved without                                                                    
having to go  to court, with the average  case costing $600.                                                                    
She  pointed out  that the  attorneys were  paid well  below                                                                    
market rate, and first year  attorney was paid about $42,000                                                                    
a  year.  She  mentioned leveraging  funds  through  donated                                                                    
office space and volunteers.                                                                                                    
9:25:32 AM                                                                                                                    
Senator Bishop asked  how many attorneys were  on staff. Ms.                                                                    
Nelson  stated that  there were  approximately 25  attorneys                                                                    
statewide, as well as a  large network of pro bono attorneys                                                                    
who volunteered their time.                                                                                                     
Co-Chair  MacKinnon  asked if  there  was  a reason  not  to                                                                    
change the requirement to require  volunteer service as part                                                                    
of  licensing   renewal  for   attorneys.  Ms.   Nelson  was                                                                    
uncertain  if  she knew  how  to  answer the  question,  and                                                                    
advised that  the Alaska  Bar Association  was in  charge of                                                                    
licensing requirement.  She added that attorneys  were asked                                                                    
by  the association  to  volunteer 50  hours  per year,  and                                                                    
there were many attorneys who  were very generous with their                                                                    
9:26:37 AM                                                                                                                    
Co-Chair MacKinnon OPENED public testimony.                                                                                     
Senator  Olson   asked  if  ALSC   only  dealt   with  civil                                                                    
litigation rather  than criminal cases. Ms.  Nelson answered                                                                    
in the affirmative.                                                                                                             
Senator  Olson  asked  if  ALSC  dealt  with  mediation  and                                                                    
arbitration. Ms.  Nelson reported that ALSC  would help with                                                                    
mediation and arbitration if it was appropriate.                                                                                
9:27:06 AM                                                                                                                    
MARIE DARLIN,  COORDINATOR, AMERICAN ASSOCIATION  OF RETIRED                                                                    
PERSONS   (AARP),   JUNEAU,   spoke  in   support   of   the                                                                    
legislation.  She thought  the legislation  provided a  more                                                                    
stable funding  mechanism for ALSC,  which was  an important                                                                    
part  of  the  services  needed by  seniors  who  would  not                                                                    
otherwise  have access  to legal  support.  She stated  that                                                                    
without such  access, low-income seniors were  vulnerable to                                                                    
many things that could affect  their lives, and were subject                                                                    
to  all  kinds  of  unfair or  exploitative  practices.  She                                                                    
referred  to an  increasing  senior  population, and  stated                                                                    
that AARP fully supported the bill.                                                                                             
9:29:26 AM                                                                                                                    
LINDA  TOWARAK,  NATIVE  VILLAGE OF  UNALAKLEET,  UNALAKLEET                                                                    
(via  teleconference), spoke  in  support of  the bill.  She                                                                    
discussed  use  of  ALSC  services  by  Unalakleet  seniors;                                                                    
recounting that 11 community  elders had received assistance                                                                    
with wills. She  specified that 6 of the  11 individuals who                                                                    
received  assistance  were  military veterans,  and  4  were                                                                    
widows of veterans. She expressed  appreciation for the work                                                                    
of ALSC.                                                                                                                        
9:31:34 AM                                                                                                                    
MONINA  WILLIS,  ANCHORAGE  (via teleconference),  spoke  in                                                                    
support  of the  legislation.  She  related past  experience                                                                    
utilizing the  services of ALSC including  assistance with a                                                                    
domestic  violence  protective  order and  a  child  custody                                                                    
case. She emphasized  the impact that having  access to free                                                                    
legal  services had  made  upon  her life  and  that of  her                                                                    
9:33:32 AM                                                                                                                    
MELBA BIGGS, SELF, ANCHORAGE  (via teleconference), spoke in                                                                    
support  of the  bill.  She related  that  she had  accessed                                                                    
legal services  from ALSC during  a child custody  case. She                                                                    
shared  her personal  financial details  and emphasized  the                                                                    
importance of the free legal assistance.                                                                                        
9:35:06 AM                                                                                                                    
Co-Chair MacKinnon CLOSED public testimony.                                                                                     
SB  49  was   HEARD  and  HELD  in   committee  for  further                                                                    
9:35:14 AM                                                                                                                    
AT EASE                                                                                                                         
9:35:43 AM                                                                                                                    

Document Name Date/Time Subjects
SB33 Sponsor Statement.pdf SFIN 3/25/2015 9:00:00 AM
SB 33
SB 49 civil legal services fund sheet.pdf SFIN 3/25/2015 9:00:00 AM
SB 49
SB 49 Letter of Support-Alaska Mental Health Board.pdf SFIN 3/25/2015 9:00:00 AM
SB 49
SB 49 Letter of Support-Council on Disabilities.pdf SFIN 3/25/2015 9:00:00 AM
SB 49
SB 49 Letter of Support-VCI.jpg SFIN 3/25/2015 9:00:00 AM
SB 49
SB 49 Sponsor Statement. ALSC.pdf SFIN 3/25/2015 9:00:00 AM
SB 49
SB49 Letter of Support-ACOA.pdf SFIN 3/25/2015 9:00:00 AM
SB 49
SB 32 AFA Support Letter.pdf SFIN 3/25/2015 9:00:00 AM
SB 32
SB 32 Briefing Paper.pdf SFIN 3/25/2015 9:00:00 AM
SB 32
SB 32 CSSB32 Supporting Documents- Resolution.pdf SFIN 3/25/2015 9:00:00 AM
SB 32
SB 32 Letter of Support 2.pdf SFIN 3/25/2015 9:00:00 AM
SB 32
SB 32 Sectional Analysis.pdf SFIN 3/25/2015 9:00:00 AM
SB 32
SB 32 Sponsor Statement.pdf SFIN 3/25/2015 9:00:00 AM
SB 32
SB 32 Written Testimony - Knight.pdf SFIN 3/25/2015 9:00:00 AM
SB 32
SB32 Letter of Support 1.pdf SFIN 3/25/2015 9:00:00 AM
SB 32
SB32 Letter of Support 3.pdf SFIN 3/25/2015 9:00:00 AM
SB 32
SB32 Summary of Changes.pdf SFIN 3/25/2015 9:00:00 AM
SB 32
SB32 Supporting Documents- Letter of Support Superior Pellets.pdf SFIN 3/25/2015 9:00:00 AM
SB 32
SB 33 Public Testimony Myers - opposition.pdf SFIN 3/25/2015 9:00:00 AM
SB 33