Tag Archives: budget

Brockton, Bill, and Budget: Intra-Governmental Efforts to Eliminate Substance Abuse

This past year, we witnessed a proliferation of substance abuse emergencies in our communities, prompting the Governor to declare a public health emergency.  At the same time, our understanding of best treatment both scientifically and criminally continues to evolve.  Thus, we are pleased to see the response of our government, which has come together across branches and politics to make some major changes in an attempt to address the problem.   Through the budget, legislation, and judicial innovation, the Commonwealth is taking on this issue in new and creative ways.

We noted in our budget updates that the Trial Court’s budget request included a $2.7 million “module” for the creation of specialty courts.  Although the final budget was about $3 million below the Trial Court’s $615 million request, it specifically included funding earmarked for this project.  In fact, this module was provided for in each step of the budget process across the Executive and Legislative branches – first by the Governor, next by the House and Senate, and finally in the Conference Committee budget signed by the Governor.  The Senate even called for an additional $300,000 in funding beyond the Trial Court’s request to help fund continuing examination and analysis of specialty court functioning.

At the end of formal session, the legislature passed its own measures to combat drug abuse in the bill S2142, An Act to increase opportunities for long-term substance abuse recovery, which Governor Patrick signed into law on August 6th.  The bill is intended to prevent drug abuse by increasing oversight on prescriptions while also making treatment easier to obtain and afford.  Most notably, the bill includes provisions requiring insurance providers to cover deterrent drug products and substance abuse treatment in some cases.  Other parts of the bill increase oversight and monitoring of patients prescribed certain drugs and require coroners to report opioid-related deaths to the Department of Public Health (DPH) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  In addition, the bill gives DPH new authority to monitor potentially dangerous substances.  Although the bill costs $20 million and caused some concerns for insurance companies, it passed with bipartisan support and has been touted as a potential model for federal legislation.

Around the same time the bill was passed, the Trial Court announced its plans to open a new specialty drug court in Brockton, funded by the $2.7 module appropriated by the legislature.  BBA President Paul T. Dacier examined the specialty court system and drug courts in particular this year.  In his blog, he notes that the specialty court model achieved remarkable results nationwide, reducing recidivism and helping people recover from addiction.  Specialty Court sessions feature judges trained and peer-reviewed in handling certain issues.  The Courts focus on rehabilitative treatment programs and probation, sometimes lasting up to two years.  This approach has resulted in seventy-five percent of rehabilitation program graduates remaining arrest-free two years out of the program – quite an achievement, especially considering that Specialty Courts handle the cases of those individuals considered most at risk of recidivism.

While the issue of substance abuse is extremely complex and constantly changing, we were pleased to see – from the budget, to a bill, to the execution of specialty courts – that each branch came together in an attempt to solve a problem and improve the lives of people in Massachusetts. 

– Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association
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Governor’s Budget and Walk to the Hill

Yesterday Governor Patrick released his proposal for the Fiscal Year 2015 state budget –his final budget before he leaves office.  While Governor Patrick’s $36.4 billion budget focuses heavily on education and investments in the life sciences, we were pleased to see his proposals in the area of criminal justice.  One proposal would provide a modest increase in spending to help former inmates successfully reintegrate into society.  Another proposal included $7 million for a program to reduce juvenile recidivism. 

Here’s what the Governor recommended for the Trial Court and for Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation:

The Massachusetts Trial Court

We are glad to see that Governor Patrick proposed funding the Massachusetts Trial Court at their maintenance budget request of $615 million plus an additional $2 million for specialty courts.   A maintenance budget is the cost of maintaining current services in the next fiscal year and takes into consideration adjustments for costs associated with inflation, caseload changes, and certain other factors. 

Developing effective specialty courts and expanding the ones we already have in the areas of drug, mental health, homelessness and veterans issues is a great investment.  Nationally, these courts have proven effective at reducing recidivism, shortening jail stays, saving money, and helping convicts return to society.  The additional funding will help expand the Massachusetts specialty courts program, standardizing it across the state in the areas most in need, and pay for data collection to study its effects to assure that Massachusetts achieves the best results. 

Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation

Governor Patrick also recommended $14 million in funding for MLAC.  While this represents a $1 million increase over last year’s appropriation, this level of funding is $3 million shy of MLAC’s $17 million budget request, meaning legal services programs will still struggle to meet even half of the overwhelming need for civil legal services. 

Our attention now turns to the Legislature.  We need to persuade both the House and Senate to hold onto the $617 million for the Trial Court and to include the full $17 million in funding for MLAC.  The House Budget will come out first in April, followed by the Senate budget in May.  

With one week to go before Walk to the Hill, we need your help.  Join us at the Great Hall of the State House at 11:00 a.m. on Thursday, January 30th as we kick off this event, then talk to your legislator.  But this year, we urge you to also commit to continue those conversations throughout the budget process.  That is the real challenge. 

You can help us — become an advocate.  Let your legislators know you pay attention to their voting and you care about this issue. 

Become a resource.  As a lawyer and community member, who better to keep your legislators informed on, say, how an increase in pro se litigants affects justice, the court system, your own work, and the citizens of the Commonwealth? 

Become an ally.  Personal relationship building goes a long way in any profession – politics is no different.

Here are some helpful tips to help you get the most out of interacting with your elected officials and/or their staff on Walk to the Hill day and beyond.

  – Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association
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A Quick Take on the Senate Ways & Means Budget

Senate Ways & Means released its $33.9 billion budget for Fiscal Year 2014 on Wednesday, May 15.  Senators are reviewing the proposal and preparing to debate the entire budget next Wednesday, May 22.  Here’s what you should know:

Senate Ways & Means funded the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC) at $12 million; this falls short of what our civil legal aid programs need to avoid further cuts.  The Senate’s $12 million appropriation is the same level of funding MLAC received in the final Fiscal Year 2013 budget, but $3.5 million less than MLAC’s request for Fiscal Year 2014.

The good news is that Senator Katherine Clark has already filed an amendment to fund MLAC at $15.5 million. But filing an amendment is not enough.  We need other Senators to get on board – co-sign her amendment and place calls to the Senate President and Chair of Senate Ways & Means – and fight for Senator Clark’s amendment.  This is where the BBA’s collective advocacy efforts can make a big impact.  Look for President J.D. Smeallie’s action alert tomorrow morning, and then call, email, and tweet your state senator.  We need a critical mass of support on this very important issue. 

The Courts also need our help.  Senate Ways & Means funded the Trial Court at $579; this is $10 million less than the Trial Court’s maintenance request for Fiscal Year 2014.  We are disappointed to see that Senate Ways & Means failed to include any funding for a way overdue judicial pay raise.

 Massachusetts judges last saw a pay increase in 2006.  We expect that amendments will be filed before the Friday deadline to include money to implement the recommendations of the “Guzzi Commission” regarding increasing judicial compensation.  The Guzzi Commission recommendations would raise the compensation for Massachusetts’ judges from 48th lowest in the nation to 28th, when adjusted for cost of living.

 

– Kathleen Joyce
Director of Government Relations
Boston Bar Association
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Governor Patrick Unveils FY 14 Budget

House 1 – the governor’s budget proposal – has been released and the budget process has officially begun. Governor Patrick’s Fiscal Year 2014 budget proposal was filed yesterday, January 23rd with the House of Representatives. Governor Patrick has said that his budget focuses on investment in education, innovation and infrastructure. Along with these investments, the governor proposes a reduction of the state sales tax rate and various tax increases. 

The budget plays an integral role in how the entire justice system works –the amount of funding the justice system receives directly affects our state courts, our civil legal aid providers, the Committee for Public Counsel Services, and the District Attorneys’ Offices. As we’ve always said, adequate funding of the entire justice system in Massachusetts is essential to ensure equal and timely access to justice.

Here is a quick review of what Governor Patrick proposed for the state judiciary and civil legal services. . .

Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC)

We are so pleased that Governor Patrick appreciates the importance of civil legal aid for poor people and recommended $15.5 million for the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation for Fiscal Year 2014.  While this is a 28% increase over its FY13 appropriation of $12 million, this victory for civil legal services is so important because revenue from Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts (IOLTA) continues to be so low.  IOLTA, which had historically been the largest source of funding for civil legal aid, has dropped by 78% since 2008.  Last year IOLTA revenue was $7.4 million and the total for this year is expected to be even lower.   

The Massachusetts Trial Court

The Trial Court’s maintenance request for Fiscal Year 2014 is $589 million. A maintenance budget is the cost of maintaining current services in the next fiscal year.  This takes into consideration adjustments for costs associated with inflation, caseload changes, and certain other factors.  Governor Patrick’s budget includes $577.5 million for the Trial Court for Fiscal Year 2014.   While this number is about $12 million less than requested, it represents a $16.5 million increase over the $561 million the Trial Court ultimately received in Fiscal Year 2013.

What these numbers really mean for the Trial Court is still to be determined.  We will proceed with caution as we work to convince the Legislature that the Trial Court needs more funding in order to deliver justice to all the people that access our courts. 

Governor Patrick’s budget proposal also creates a commission to study court re-alignment.  The commission will include a representative of the BBA. This commission’s purpose will be to produce an independent, non-partisan assessment on the closure or re-alignment of courts.

***

The House Ways and Means Committee will now review Governor Patrick’s budget and then develop its own recommendations by April.  Stay tuned for updates as the process unfolds.

 

-Kathleen Joyce
Government Relations Director
Boston Bar Association
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Justice System Budget Update

After just three days the House of Representatives concluded its work on a $32.4 budget that provided $12 million for the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC) and $560 million for the Massachusetts Trial Courts.   This was a victory of sorts for MLAC and the Trial Court since the original House budget appropriation was less.  Issue Spot reported on the House’s initial budget only a couple of weeks ago.

Thanks to our BBA members who made phone calls and sent emails to their state representatives.  It made a difference.  One member of the House who was present in the budget caucus room when these amendments were being discussed said there was a huge showing of support for the MLAC amendment when it was under consideration.  It was also reassuring to hear that members of the House recognized the unmet needs of our justice system when the focus turned to the Trial Court. In the end, both MLAC and the Trial Court received a bump in their funding.

Among the amendments that did not pass and were therefore not included in the final House budget was an amendment that would have provided the new Court Administrator with broader authority to transfer funds within the Trial Court.  Currently, transferability is authorized across the Trial Court departments, but restricted relative to Probation and Community Corrections accounts.  Transferability from the latter two line items from another court line item cannot exceed 5%.  The amendment would have removed the restriction and allowed transfers between any line item within the trial court to any other item of appropriation within the trial court as deemed necessary and appropriate for FY 2013.

Our work is not done.
(1) We urge you to thank the representatives that we reached out to this week.  A special mention to Representatives Ruth Balser and John Keenan, both of whom were the lead sponsors on the amendments calling for increases to MLAC and the Trial Court.

(2) Please contact your senators as the Senate starts to build their version of the budget.  Just as we did in the House, we need to reach out to our senators and share our personal stories of how underfunding the justice system has adversely affected us, our practice and our clients’ lives.

– Kathleen Joyce
Government Relations Director
Boston Bar Association
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The House Budget in Brief

Yesterday, the House Ways and Means Committee released its $32.3 billion budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2013, marking the second phase of the annual state budget process.  Debate on the budget will begin the week of April 23rd and then the focus will move to the Senate.  The final budget will be presented to Governor Patrick in time for the beginning of the new fiscal year beginning July 1st.

The BBA likes to view the budget through the lens of the entire justice system – focusing on the impact that the state budget has on our state courts, our civil legal aid providers, the Committee for Public Counsel Services, and the District Attorneys’ Offices – rather than seeing the budget appropriations as unrelated pieces.   Adequate funding of the entire justice system in Massachusetts is essential to ensure the equal and timely access to justice.

Before comparing the House budget to the Governor’s budget, it is important to know that the two budgets begin with different revenue figures.  The House budget does not rely on any new taxes or new fees while the Governor’s budget that was released in January did.  The Governor’s budget – which Issue Spot commented on when it was released too – included new revenue from a higher cigarette tax, an expansion of the bottle bill, and a sales tax for soda and candy.

Some takeaway’s from the House budget:

The Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation – MLAC’s request for FY 13 was $14.5 million

  • House Ways and Means budget: $11 million
  • Governor’s budget: $12 million

*Read last week’s Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly Op-Ed for more (log-in required)

The Massachusetts Trial Court – The Trial Court’s request for FY 13 was $593.9 million.  This “critical need” funding would have provided for some limited hiring to restore services.

  • House Ways and Means budget: $554 million – includes the Probation Department in the Judiciary
  • Governor’s budget: $429.7 million – moves the Probation Department to the Executive Branch

*Check out the Trial Court’s graph to see the dramatic decline in personnel and helpful information on their case filings and funding.      

Committee for Public Counsel Service – CPCS’s request for FY 13 was $186.4 million.

  • House Ways and Means budget: $162.6 million – includes a $23.7 million cut to the private counsel line item.  The House Ways and Means budget does not include a mandated staff expansion that the Governor’s budget proposed.
  • Governor’s budget: $164. 5 million – proposes a CPCS expansion increasing the 25% staff model to a 50% staff model to handle indigent criminal cases.

 

-Kathleen Joyce
Government Relations Director
Boston Bar Association
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Basic Primer on the Budget Process

It’s budget prep time in Massachusetts, meaning that agencies and groups across the state are crunching numbers.  Any entity that gets state funding is assessing its current and future needs — with the goal of determining what its annual request to the Legislature will be for fiscal year 2013.  Earlier this week, the annual consensus revenue hearing was held before the House and Senate Ways & Means Committees.  This hearing marked the beginning of the process by which the Governor’s administration, the House and the Senate will ultimately settle on a final revenue estimate.  That agreed upon revenue estimate will lay the groundwork for building the 2013 budgets submitted by the Governor, the House and the Senate.

There’s a lot of forecasting that goes into determining what this consensus revenue number will be, including projected tax collection figures.  These are primarily drawn from the sales tax, the income tax and the capital gains tax.  Things like national trends and even what is going on globally will ultimately affect the economy here in Massachusetts.

Governor Patrick’s budget will come out in mid-January, followed by the House’s budget in April and the Senate’s budget in May.  The differences in the various budgets must be reconciled by the start of the new fiscal year on July 1, 2012.

So how does the BBA fit into the state budget process?  Annually, the BBA advocates for adequate funding on behalf of civil legal services, our state courts, district attorneys and CPCS.  Recently, because of the economic pressures on the state budget, the budget campaign has become a year-round effort. Our advocacy has already begun.  We’ve joined forces with Greater Boston Legal Services and visited legislators to discuss funding for legal aid.  We’ll continue to push these and other issues later when we meet this week with the Governor’s legal counsel and next week with Speaker DeLeo.

But we don’t just sit around, waiting to see what the state budget allocates for legal services.  We do much more.  Through our charitable affiliate, the Boston Bar Foundation (BBF), we raise money to support legal aid.  Last year, the BBF made grants totaling $1.1 million to 25 Massachusetts community organizations providing a wide variety of core legal services – from domestic violence and immigration to housing and homelessness.  Remarkably, in spite of the economy, this $1.1 million was almost a $50,000 increase in core legal services grants, compared with FY10.

The BBA is also a major recruiter for the Volunteer Lawyers Project (VLP), a pro bono initiative with an outstanding reputation.  In just the last few months the BBA held two trainings for VLP.  One was a Chapter 7 bankruptcy pro bono training, which drew over 100 lawyers.  The other training prepared lawyers to volunteer for one of our most successful pro bono programs, Housing Court Lawyer for the Day Program, which has flourished over the past twelve years.  The BBA has recruited scores of volunteers from law firms, solo practices and in-house corporate legal departments to provide assistance to unrepresented tenants and landlords on summary process day at the Housing Court.

But that’s not all we do to bridge the supply and demand gap for legal aid to the poor.  We co-sponsor and help recruit attendees for an important advocacy event, the annual Walk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid.  Walk to the Hill, now in its 13th year, will take place on January 26th at 11 am at the State House.  It’s particularly timely, since it occurs the day after the Governor’s budget is expected to be released.

We do what we can to help in a variety of ways and we do it all year long.  But none of the things we do in this area can substitute for the work that veteran legal services lawyers provide.  We recognize that our role is to help secure the funding necessary to allow those attorneys to focus on the immediate needs of their clients.

-Kathleen Joyce
Government Relations Director
Boston Bar Association
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