Legislature(2011 - 2012)BELTZ 105 (TSBldg)

02/07/2011 01:30 PM JUDICIARY

Download Mp3. <- Right click and save file as

* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
Heard & Held
Heard & Held
+ Bills Previously Heard/Scheduled TELECONFERENCED
                SB  62-CIVIL LEGAL SERVICES FUND                                                                            
2:49:25 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR HOLLIS FRENCH announced the consideration of SB 62.                                                                       
SENATOR  MCGUIRE, sponsor  of SB  62, said  the bill  would allow                                                               
appropriations into the Alaska Legal  Services Fund equivalent to                                                               
25 percent  of the filing  fees paid  to the court  system during                                                               
the previous  fiscal year.  Right now these  filing fees  go into                                                               
the  general  fund.  For  over 40  years  Alaska  Legal  Services                                                               
Corporation  has  been  helping   low-income  Alaskans  who  need                                                               
representation, and the corporation's  state funds are dwindling.                                                               
She said  that Alaska  Legal Services helps  families who  are in                                                               
true crisis,  including families experiencing  domestic violence,                                                               
as well as many senior citizens.                                                                                                
2:52:30 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR  COGHILL asked  how many  corporations like  this have  a                                                               
dedicated fund to go to.                                                                                                        
SENATOR MCGUIRE responded she would get the information.                                                                        
CHAIR FRENCH  mentioned that the  Sea Life Center,  among others,                                                               
can  receive corporate  donations and  then the  corporations can                                                               
get credits against their state taxes.                                                                                          
SENATOR COGHILL replied both tax  credits and grants are prolific                                                               
but  there are  few places  in the  statutes authorize  a private                                                               
corporation to receive an appropriation from a specific area.                                                                   
2:53:54 PM                                                                                                                    
NIKOLE   NELSON,  Executive   Director,  Alaska   Legal  Services                                                               
Corporation,  said  the ALSC  mission  is  to provide  meaningful                                                               
access to justice for low  income Alaskans, thus promoting family                                                               
stability,  safety,  and  reducing   the  legal  consequences  of                                                               
poverty.  In  the last  year  they  helped  over 400  victims  of                                                               
domestic  violence and  sexual  assault, as  well  as 600  Alaska                                                               
seniors.  The corporation  also helped  300 disabled  individuals                                                               
get access  to Social Security  and health care benefits,  and it                                                               
helped 349 families to fight  homelessness. Ms. Nelson noted that                                                               
38 percent  of the clients they  served last year lived  in rural                                                               
2:56:53 PM                                                                                                                    
The  bad news,  she  said, is  that last  year  ALSC turned  away                                                               
hundreds of families because it  lacked the staffing resources to                                                               
help  them. While  the ALSC  client  base is  growing each  year,                                                               
funding  has  decreased.  The  percentage  of  people  living  in                                                               
poverty in  Alaska is  higher than  it has been  in 15  years. In                                                               
2009 ALSC  received over 3,400 inquiries,  and 2,834 applications                                                               
for help.  They need  to bridge  the gap  between those  who need                                                               
ALCS services and those  who are able to get them.  SB 62 is part                                                               
of the solution.                                                                                                                
2:58:54 PM                                                                                                                    
VANCE  SANDERS, Attorney  and  President,  Alaska Legal  Services                                                               
Corporation, said  he worked for  ALSC as an attorney  from 1982-                                                               
1992, and he is now an  attorney in private practice. Mr. Sanders                                                               
said that ALSC has tried to  go to every available funding source                                                               
it can think  of. The corporation was founded by  Congress but is                                                               
independent of  government control,  so as to  meet the  needs of                                                               
the people  it serves. While  ALSC still receives  federal money,                                                               
the reality is  that federal funding will no  longer be reliable.                                                               
The corporation has  tried to fill the gap but  state funding has                                                               
gone  from $1.2  million in  1984 to  $350,000 in  the governor's                                                               
budget this  year. If  ALSC is going  to fight  domestic violence                                                               
and help people in need, it must be funded.                                                                                     
MR. SANDERS said three years  ago, with help from Senator Thomas,                                                               
ALSC was able  to amend the punitive damages statute  so that the                                                               
fifty  percent that  goes to  the  state would  be available  for                                                               
appropriation.  However, the  Legislature has  never appropriated                                                               
that money. ALSC is hoping  that the Legislature will appropriate                                                               
that money as well as the  civil filing fees in court cases. This                                                               
would  be  extremely  helpful.  He  also  emphasized  that  legal                                                               
services  helps judges,  because it  cuts  the number  of pro  se                                                               
3:03:03 PM                                                                                                                    
KATE  BURKHART, Executive  Director, Alaska  Mental Health  Board                                                               
and the Advisory Board on  Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, stated that                                                               
she  does not  speak  for  the Department  of  Health and  Social                                                               
Services (DHSS).  She is  speaking on behalf  of these  boards to                                                               
support  SB  62  because  of   the  direct  benefit  to  Alaskans                                                               
experiencing mental illness and  substance use disorders, as well                                                               
as their families and communities.  Those who experience a mental                                                               
health  disorder often  live in  poverty, and  living in  poverty                                                               
means having to  go to the justice system for  basic human needs,                                                               
such as  fair housing and access  to health care. Most  people do                                                               
not understand how  difficult it is to access  the justice system                                                               
if you live in poverty. Add  to that a disability, such as mental                                                               
illness,  and  it is  almost  impossible  without a  professional                                                               
advocate.  Representing  someone  experiencing  a  mental  health                                                               
disorder requires a  great deal of patience and time,  and a fair                                                               
amount  of specialization.  The  nonprofit,  public interest  law                                                               
firms in  Alaska, such as  ALSC offer this in  a way that  is not                                                               
often offered to the constituency it represents.                                                                                
3:06:17 PM                                                                                                                    
MS.  BURKHARDT said  the  majority of  people  that Alaska  Legal                                                               
Services serves are  affected by mental health  issues, and often                                                               
alcoholism  and  addiction. By  insuring  access  to the  justice                                                               
system through competent legal services,  SB 62 provides a unique                                                               
benefit to the clients served by the boards on which she serves.                                                                
CHAIR FRENCH announced he would hold SB 62 in committee.                                                                        
3:06:32 PM                                                                                                                    
There being no further business to come before the committee,                                                                   
Chair French adjourned the meeting at                                                                                           

Document Name Date/Time Subjects
SB62 Sponsor Statement.pdf SJUD 2/7/2011 1:30:00 PM
SB 62