Tag Archives: Senate Budget

Justice System FY15 Budget

We’ve done our best to keep you up to date on the budget process this year, and it’s almost done.  To recap, way back in January, the Governor filed his budget recommendations bill.  In early April, the House Committee on Ways & Means made its budget recommendations.  The House completed its budget in early May, the Senate Ways &Means Committee finalized its budget a couple of weeks later, and the Senate completed its budget at the end of May.  Since then, the budget has been before a six member Conference Committee consisting of Representatives Dempsey, Kulik and deMacedo and Senators Brewer, Flanagan, and Ross.  On Sunday, June 29th, the Conference Committee finalized its budget recommendation, and on Monday, the House and Senate approved this joint budget.  At this point, the budget is under review by the Governor, who has ten days to approve or veto the entire budget, veto or reduce specific line items, veto outside sections, and/or submit changes as an amendment to the budget for further consideration by the legislature.

Our chief areas of interest in the justice system – judiciary funding in the form of: the Trial Court, legal services, and state attorneys – fared well, but still face a number of challenges.

Trial Court Funding

The Trial Court requested maintenance funding of $615 million for FY15.  This is the amount of money it would take for the court to continue running at current capacity.  In addition, it proposed 10 “modules,” essentially packages of ideas and their costs that it could implement if funded, to update and innovate the courts.  These included plans for court service centers, specialty courts, electronic signage and information kiosks, and telecommunication enhancements.  The price for each module ranged from around $400,000 to $6.5 million.

  • Conference Committee – $612 million – this amount is in between the House and Senate appropriations, but is $3 million below the Court’s maintenance request.  It includes $3 million for the specialty court module.
  • Senate Budget – $617 million
  • Senate Ways & Means – $617 million
  • House Budget – $609 million
  • House Ways & Means Budget – $609 million
  • Governor’s Budget – $617.5 million

Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC) Funding

MLAC requested $17 million for FY15.  This amount would cover current costs and allow for the hiring of 40 more attorneys in addition to offering some future stability.  This funding level would expand the amount of services its programs could provide to vulnerable residents across the state and also help boost the state economy.  As funding for civil legal aid has declined, mostly through a large drop in IOLTA revenue, the economic benefits resulting from civil legal aid have also dropped.  At the same time, the need for civil legal aid has grown — close to 1 million people in Massachusetts qualify for this aid, and programs currently turn away 50 to 70 percent of eligible residents.  Last year, MLAC received $13 million in funding.

  • Conference Committee – $15 million – Representative Ruth Balser and Senator William Brownsberger sent a letter co-signed by 50 other legislators to conference committee members voicing their support for $15 million in MLAC funding. 

We reached out to our members along the way, asking you to contact your legislators to voice your support for civil legal aid funding.  Thank you for all of your help – we are confident this level of appropriation wouldn’t have happened without you.  At this point we encourage you to continue building your relationships at the Statehouse by personally thanking your legislators for their work and reach out to the Governor for the final budget step, urging him to sign on to the $15 million MLAC appropriation. 

  • Senate Budget – $14 million
  • Senate Ways & Means Budget – $13 million – Senator William Brownsberger and Senator Cynthia Creem filed an amendment requesting increasing this line item to $17 million.  It was amended to a $1 million increase and adopted.
  • House Budget – $15 million
  • House Ways & Means Budget – $13 million – Representative Ruth Balser filed an amendment (#157), co-signed by 71 Representatives, proposing to increase the MLAC budget line item to the requested $17 million.  It was included in a consolidated amendment as a $2 million increase for the final House budget.
  • Governor’s Budget – $14 million 

Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS) Funding

CPCS requested a total budget of $219,399,885 for FY15.  Its maintenance request was $206,629,539.  The $12.7 million difference was to increase staff compensation and private bar hourly rates.  It is important to note when understanding CPCS’s line item that while the Governor’s budget attempts to account for the entire budget, the House Ways and Means recommendation underfunds the private counsel account because CPCS is considered a case-driven account for budgeting purposes.  This means that since CPCS cannot predict with exact certainty how many cases it will have to serve, it is provided with an initial appropriation with the understanding that, similar to other case-driven accounts, CPCS will submit supplemental increase requests as the fiscal year progresses.  The Legislature and Governor have consistently honored and funded these requests.  Neither the Governor nor the House Ways and Means budget propose any changes to the current CPCS service delivery system.

  • Conference Committee – $168 million
  • Senate Ways & Means – $180 million
  • House Budget – $168 million
  • House Ways & Means Budget – $168 million
  • Governor’s Budget – $191 million

The budget is a long and complicated process, but it is almost finished and we hope that regular updates like this have helped you stay engaged with some key judiciary appropriations.  Thank you to everyone for your involvement, especially with legal services funding.  Stay tuned for a final update likely only a few days away.

– Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association
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Spring Legislative Line-Up at the BBA

While the BBA has been keeping a watchful eye on the Fiscal Year 2014 state budget — now being debated in the Senate — we have also been paying close attention to a number of our other public policy initiatives. Here is an update on the Senate budget and a look at some of the legislative issues on our spring agenda:

Fiscal Year 2014 State Budget

Senate Ways & Means released its Fiscal Year 2014 budget proposal last week, which included $12 million for the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC); alas, this is $3.5 million short of its request for Fiscal Year 2014.  The Senate Ways & Means budget funded the Trial Court at $579 million; unfortunately, this did not include funding for a judicial pay raise.

After the budget was released, senators filed amendments to the budget. Debate on the budget and those amendments got underway yesterday.  By the end of the first day of budget debate, the Senate adopted a redrafted amendment filed by Senator Clark.  Senator Katherine Clark’s redrafted amendment provided an additional $1 million for MLAC — bringing their total Fiscal Year 2014 appropriation up to $13 million!  This is the same amount that MLAC ultimately received in the House budget.

We expect the $13 million to be included in the final budget — a victory, especially considering other state programs have been cut.  Thank you to our members.  Your advocacy this year with your legislators really paid off and this $13 million is a result of all of your hard work.

As of this writing, the judicial compensation amendment had not yet been taken up by the Senate.  We expect to know more by the end of the week.

Legislation

As we reported in Issue Spot earlier this month, provisions of House Bill 28, “An Act making amendments to the Uniform Commercial Code” made its way to the House Ways & Means Committee.  The BBA, along with the Massachusetts Bar Association and the Massachusetts Bankers Association, are still collaborating to get this bill before the House and Senate for final approval.  We plan to continue our conversations with the Chairman of Ways and Means throughout the next few weeks.  We are still aiming to get all of this done by July 1st uniform effective date.

Also before the House Ways & Means Committee is House Bill 2696, “An Act to continue tax basis rules for property acquired from decedents,” filed by Representative Alice Pesich.  This bill, which would mitigate the potential for Massachusetts double taxation with respect to most 2010 decedents, will have an impact on trusts and estates in Massachusetts.

Yesterday, the House of Representatives unanimously passed House Bill 1432, “An Act expanding juvenile jurisdiction”.  This legislative proposal would raise the age of jurisdiction of the Juvenile Court from 17 to 18, which would move 17-year-old offenders into the juvenile justice system in Massachusetts and end the practice of routinely incarcerating 17-year-olds in adult corrections facilities.

Listening to yesterday’s debate in the House, the support from the legislators who spoke publicly about the proposal echoed many of the reasons that the Criminal Law Section also supports this bill.  This proposal reflects the latest scientific evidence by differentiating between the mental capacity of juveniles and adults. This evidence is used to create distinct rules and guidelines for the two groups, and raising the age will allow 18 year old offenders to be appropriately considered as youth by the justice system.  One representative at the debate effectively summed up this argument and said, “an increase in the age is not a reduction in justice and we know a young person in the juvenile system will receive treatment, family involvement and we will have less expensive results.”

It was also mentioned that by mid-August the federal Prevention of Rape Elimination Act (PREA) will require every state to ensure that individuals under 18 are not incarcerated with adults.  If Massachusetts does not comply with the PREA, it will have to construct separate holding facilities for 17-year-olds.  Raising the age from 17 to 18 will fulfill the PREA requirements. Also, 38 states have the age of majority at 18 or above, which means that raising the age in Massachusetts would bring the Commonwealth into sync with the majority of the nation.

– Kathleen Joyce
Director of Government Relations
Boston Bar Association
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