Legislature(2015 - 2016)BELTZ 105 (TSBldg)

02/27/2015 01:30 PM Senate JUDICIARY

Note: the audio and video recordings are distinct records and are obtained from different sources. As such there may be key differences between the two. The audio recordings are captured by our records offices as the official record of the meeting and will have more accurate timestamps. Use the icons to switch between them.

Download Mp3. <- Right click and save file as

* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
+= SB 51 Bills Previously Heard/Scheduled: TELECONFERENCED
Heard & Held
Heard & Held
-- Invited and Public Testimony --
+ Bills Previously Heard/Scheduled TELECONFERENCED
                SB  49-CIVIL LEGAL SERVICES FUND                                                                            
2:04:29 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR  MCGUIRE announced  the  consideration of  SB  49. "An  Act                                                               
allowing  appropriations to  the civil  legal services  fund from                                                               
court  filing  fees." She  explained  that  she  introduced  this                                                             
legislation  after getting  involved with  Alaska Legal  Services                                                               
Corporation (ALSC)  to help  women who  were victims  of domestic                                                               
Speaking as sponsor,  she explained that she  introduced the bill                                                               
in  previous  legislatures  to   look  at  funding  Alaska  Legal                                                               
Services  from  the  punitive  damages  fund.  The  current  bill                                                               
proposes taking 25 percent of the  annual filing fees paid to the                                                               
Alaska  Court  System.  She believes  that  ALSC  should  receive                                                               
adequate  funding because  it serves  people who  would otherwise                                                               
not have legal representation.                                                                                                  
2:06:10 PM                                                                                                                    
NIKOLE   NELSON,  Executive   Director,  Alaska   Legal  Services                                                               
Corporation (ALSC), explained  that ALSC is a  nonprofit law firm                                                               
that has been  providing free legal help  for low-income Alaskans                                                               
for the past  45 years. Their mission is to  ensure that everyone                                                               
is  treated fairly  in  the justice  system.  ALSC provides  free                                                               
legal  help so  people can  protect their  livelihoods, families,                                                               
health,   and  safety.   They  provide   individual  advice   and                                                               
representation,  self-help  materials, community  education,  and                                                               
clinics.  The work  is done  by  regional staff  attorneys in  11                                                               
offices statewide and a network of pro-bono volunteers.                                                                         
She reviewed  the types of  cases and highlighted that  last year                                                               
ALSC provided direct representation in  2,600 cases and served an                                                               
estimated   43,000   individuals   through  their   website.   An                                                               
additional   2,000   people   attended  self-help   clinics   and                                                               
workshops. She  reported that a  recent outcome study  found that                                                               
ALSC  was  successful getting  positive  results  for clients  86                                                               
percent  of the  time, and  that there  was a  5:1 return  on the                                                               
funds invested in the program.                                                                                                  
2:10:15 PM                                                                                                                    
MS. NELSON  highlighted the  problem that ALSC  had to  turn away                                                               
one person  for each  one it helped  last year due  to a  lack of                                                               
resources.  In  1984 ALSC's  appropriation  was  $1.2 million  to                                                               
serve   a  poverty   population  of   about  40,000.   Today  the                                                               
appropriation  is $550,000  and the  poverty population  is about                                                               
106,000. She  urged the committee  to help ensure that  access to                                                               
justice is  a reality for  all Alaskans,  not just those  who can                                                               
afford an attorney. Passing SB  49 would allow the legislature to                                                               
appropriate  up to  25 percent  of the  Court System  filing fees                                                               
into the  civil legal services  fund. The legislature  would then                                                               
have discretion  to appropriate that  amount each year  to Alaska                                                               
Legal Services Corporation or  other organizations providing free                                                               
legal aid to low-income Alaskans.                                                                                               
2:12:08 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR  COGHILL   asked  what   other  funding   ALSC  receives,                                                               
including private sources.                                                                                                      
MS. NELSON replied a variety  of federal, state and private funds                                                               
make up  the $4.2  million budget. ALSC  receives funds  from the                                                               
federal government, community partners,  private fund raising and                                                               
foundation support.                                                                                                             
SENATOR COGHILL asked how the federal government provides funds.                                                                
MS. NELSON explained that Congress  makes an annual appropriation                                                               
to  the  national  Legal  Services  Corporation  and  each  state                                                               
receives  a  share  based on  its  poverty  population.  Although                                                               
Alaska's poverty  population is  growing, the  poverty population                                                               
in the  Lower 48  is growing  at a much  higher rate  so Alaska's                                                               
share of the appropriation is reduced.                                                                                          
SENATOR COGHILL asked how ALSC  is connected to the federal Legal                                                               
Services Corporation.                                                                                                           
MS. NELSON clarified  that the Legal Services  Corporation is not                                                               
a federal  agency, but it  receives an annual  appropriation from                                                               
Congress and  then disburses grants  to recipients in  each state                                                               
based on the poverty population in the particular state.                                                                        
SENATOR  COGHILL asked  how much  the Legal  Services Corporation                                                               
receives from Congress on an annual basis.                                                                                      
MS. NELSON  replied she  didn't have  that information;  she only                                                               
knew what ALSC has received.                                                                                                    
SENATOR  COGHILL  expressed concern  that  the  state is  already                                                               
paying for legal services through  the Public Defender Agency and                                                               
the Office of  Public Advocacy, but acknowledged  that ALSC cases                                                               
cover a larger  breadth. He said he appreciates  and respects the                                                               
work that ALSC has done  helping victims of domestic violence and                                                               
veterans, but he  struggles with the time spent  on larger social                                                               
questions like  the Pebble Mine issue.  "Sometimes we're actually                                                               
helping you sue the state. Sometimes  the state is a bad actor; I                                                               
get it.  Sometimes it's a  larger social question; you  don't get                                                               
me on that," he said.                                                                                                           
MS. NELSON clarified  that Alaska is not an  outlier in receiving                                                               
federal grant monies and that  ALSC is not duplicating legal work                                                               
of state agencies.                                                                                                              
She further clarified that Alaska  Legal Services Corporation did                                                               
not take a  position on the merits of the  Pebble Mine case. ALSC                                                               
filed  an  amicus brief  when  the  case  was before  the  Alaska                                                               
Supreme Court addressing the question  of whether or not pro-bono                                                               
attorneys have  to disclose all  their finances.  ALSC's position                                                               
was that  it would be a  barrier to getting private  attorneys to                                                               
volunteer their time  if it would require that  they disclose all                                                               
their personal finances.                                                                                                        
SENATOR COGHILL expressed appreciation for the explanation.                                                                     
2:20:34 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR MICCICHE  stated support for  the merits of the  bill and                                                               
clarified that ALSC  only takes on civil cases. It's  a pool that                                                               
isn't available elsewhere, he said.                                                                                             
SENATOR  COGHILL  expressed concern  about  the  cost benefit  of                                                               
taking  cases to  the Alaska  Supreme  Court and  asked for  help                                                               
putting it in context.                                                                                                          
MS. NELSON  replied ALSC  takes on  about 2,600  individual cases                                                               
each  year and  a  very  small number  (perhaps  one percent)  go                                                               
before the  Alaska Supreme  Court. Examples of  the cases  at the                                                               
trial court  level might  include a  victim of  domestic violence                                                               
who was  awarded custody  of her children.  If it's  appealed the                                                               
next stop is  the supreme court and  ALSC has to follow  it up to                                                               
ensure that the mother retains  custody. There isn't anybody else                                                               
to stand in  and preserve her rights. When any  case is appealed,                                                               
the   victim  needs   representation   through  the   complicated                                                               
appellate system to preserve their rights.                                                                                      
SENATOR  COGHILL expressed  concern with  establishing a  funding                                                               
stream that is "free."                                                                                                          
CHAIR MCGUIRE opened public testimony.                                                                                          
2:27:12 PM                                                                                                                    
ANDREW  GAMBLE, Jr,  representing himself,  Juneau, Alaska,  said                                                               
he's a  Vietnam veteran speaking in  support of SB 49.  He shared                                                               
the story of  Alaska Legal Services Corporation  helping him when                                                               
he  tried  to  settle  his mother's  estate.  They  returned  his                                                               
quality of life.                                                                                                                
2:31:31 PM                                                                                                                    
GERALD  "SANDY" ROBERTS,  representing  himself, Juneau,  Alaska,                                                               
testified in  support of SB  49. He shared  the story of  being a                                                               
three-tour Vietnam  veteran who  was injured  in the  service. He                                                               
was  reinjured years  later but  unable to  get veteran  benefits                                                               
because his  records were  lost or  destroyed. If  someone hadn't                                                               
finally suggested he go to  the Alaska Legal Services Corporation                                                               
for help, he would probably be a veteran on the streets.                                                                        
SENATOR  COSTELLO  thanked both  veterans  for  their service  to                                                               
their country.                                                                                                                  
2:37:22 PM                                                                                                                    
ROBBIN SMITH, representing  herself, Anchorage, Alaska, testified                                                               
in support  of SB 49. She  shared that the Alaska  Legal Services                                                               
Corporation  gave  her the  courage  to  fight back  against  the                                                               
domestic violence in  her life. They provided  support and helped                                                               
her navigate  the legal system to  get a divorce and  get custody                                                               
of her children.                                                                                                                
2:40:08 PM                                                                                                                    
MARIE  DARLIN,  representative,   AARP  Alaska,  Juneau,  Alaska,                                                               
testified in  support of SB 49.  She noted the letter  of support                                                               
in  the  packets  that  articulates  AARP's  support  for  having                                                               
alternative  mechanisms for  funding  the  Alaska Legal  Services                                                               
Corporation. In  particular, ALSC has a  long, successful history                                                               
of service to older Alaskans.                                                                                                   
2:41:29 PM                                                                                                                    
DENISE DANIELLO, Executive Director,  Alaska Commission on Aging,                                                               
Department  of Health  and Social  Services (DHSS),  testified in                                                               
support  of  SB 49.  She  highlighted  that seniors  have  unique                                                               
financial, health  care, and social  needs. Many live on  a fixed                                                               
income and  receive extensive  help from  ALSC. She  informed the                                                               
committee that several years ago  the commission and ALSC applied                                                               
for a grant  through the U.S. Administration on  Aging to provide                                                               
workshops  for  seniors  to  help   establish  wills,  powers  of                                                               
attorney,  conservatorships,  and  guardianships. The  money  was                                                               
used to support travel for an  ALSC attorney to go to communities                                                               
that didn't  have an ALSC  presence. Helping seniors  gain access                                                               
to the civil justice system was greatly appreciated, she said.                                                                  
2:43:30 PM                                                                                                                    
NANCY  MEADE,  General  Counsel,  Office  of  the  Administrative                                                               
Director, Administrative  Staff, Alaska Court  System, introduced                                                               
SENATOR  COSTELLO asked  what impact  the bill  will have  on the                                                               
Court System.                                                                                                                   
MS. MEADE replied  the Court System does not  anticipate a fiscal                                                               
impact should  SB 49  pass. All  the fees  that are  collected go                                                               
straight  to  the  general  fund  and  the  court  has  no  input                                                               
SENATOR  COSTELLO asked  how much  the Court  System collects  in                                                               
filing fees.                                                                                                                    
MS. MEADE advised that the amount  doesn't vary much from year to                                                               
year. In  FY2014 the  court collected  $2,252,900; 25  percent of                                                               
that  is $563,225.  Looking back  five years,  25 percent  of the                                                               
totals  range  from  $563,000  to $660,000.  She  noted  that  in                                                               
response  to the  state's fiscal  picture, the  supreme court  is                                                               
considering raising  the filing fees  by July 1 to  coincide with                                                               
the new  fiscal year.  Based on  the information  she's received,                                                               
that could  mean the court  would collect  up to $1  million more                                                               
per year.                                                                                                                       
SENATOR COSTELLO asked if the filing fees vary.                                                                                 
MS. MEADE  replied the court  administrative rules list  the fees                                                               
based on the court. For example,  the filing fee for an appeal is                                                               
$150 and the  filing fee in superior court for  a divorce or some                                                               
other civil  matter is  also $150.  If the case  can be  filed in                                                               
district court  because the amount  in controversy is  lower, the                                                               
filing fee  is $90.  There are waivers  for indigent  parties and                                                               
the court doesn't collect filing  fees from state agencies, which                                                               
means there are no filing fees for criminal cases.                                                                              
2:48:41 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR MICCICHE asked Ms. Nelson  to address whether or not poor                                                               
Alaskans have more availability  to legal representation than the                                                               
average Alaskan  because Senator  Coghill's question  about equal                                                               
access and the cost benefit of cases is legitimate.                                                                             
MS.  NELSON explained  that ALSC  attorneys meet  once a  week to                                                               
talk about which cases to take  on. They are prioritized based on                                                               
family safety and economic stability,  although some grants allow                                                               
prioritization in  other areas.  The economic benefit  study that                                                               
looked at the  outcomes of ALSC's work showed that  80 percent of                                                               
the cases were settled without going to court.                                                                                  
SENATOR MICCICHE asked if additional  funding would allow ALSC to                                                               
expand its  scope and  perhaps take on  civil cases  that Senator                                                               
Coghill fears because they're social or environmental in nature.                                                                
MS. NELSON  answered no;  ALSC's core function  is to  serve low-                                                               
income people in  civil cases when they  can't get representation                                                               
anywhere else. They  would not move into  environmental or social                                                               
work if they had additional resources.                                                                                          
SENATOR COGHILL  disclosed that  he worked  with ASLC  on veteran                                                               
allotments. He reiterated that before  the legislature provides a                                                               
funding  stream, he  wants assurance  that all  needy people  are                                                               
2:55:18 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR   MCGUIRE  stated   support  for   Alaska  Legal   Services                                                               
Corporation  and  the  safety  net  it  provides  for  low-income                                                               
CHAIR MCGUIRE held SB 49 in committee for further consideration.                                                                

Document Name Date/Time Subjects
SB51 Sectional Analysis.pdf SJUD 2/27/2015 1:30:00 PM
SB 51
SB51 Doc_1 Uniform Law Commission Summary.pdf SJUD 2/27/2015 1:30:00 PM
SB 51
SB51 Doc_2 UIFSA (2008) Why States Should Adopt.pdf SJUD 2/27/2015 1:30:00 PM
SB 51
SB51 Doc_3 Uniform Law Commission Map of States.pdf SJUD 2/27/2015 1:30:00 PM
SB 51
SB51 Doc_4 UIFSA Testimony_Beaver.pdf SJUD 2/27/2015 1:30:00 PM
SB 51
SB51 Doc_5 Letter to House State Affairs Committee.pdf SJUD 2/27/2015 1:30:00 PM
SB 51
SB51 Doc_6 Supporting At-Risk Kids Act.pdf SJUD 2/27/2015 1:30:00 PM
SB 51
SB51 Doc_7 HCCH International Recovery of Child Support.pdf SJUD 2/27/2015 1:30:00 PM
SB 51
SB51 Doc_8 HCCH Countries.pdf SJUD 2/27/2015 1:30:00 PM
SB 51
SB51 Doc_9 US Senate Press Release.pdf SJUD 2/27/2015 1:30:00 PM
SB 51
SB51 Doc_10 Public Law Strengthening Families Act.pdf SJUD 2/27/2015 1:30:00 PM
SB 51
SB51 Doc_11 Title 42 Public Health and Welfare.pdf SJUD 2/27/2015 1:30:00 PM
SB 51