Tag Archives: state budget

BBA Budget Advocacy- A Year Long Commitment

It’s that time of year again – time to talk about the budget! Governor Patrick will release his budget next Wednesday, January 23rd followed by the House budget in April and the Senate budget in May.  The differences in the various budgets must be reconciled by the start of the new fiscal year on July 1, 2013. Each year the BBA plays a major role in the budget process, advocating for adequate funding for civil legal services, our state courts, district attorneys and CPCS.  Here are a few of the ways we have recently been involved in adequate funding for FY 2013 for the Trial Court and civil legal services–

Trial Court Advocacy

Meeting with the people who make the important decisions is always a big part of any advocacy effort.  This year we took it right to the top.  BBA President-Elect Paul Dacier (EMC Corporation) sat down with Governor Patrick on January 9th to discuss court funding and specifically the Trial Court’s Fiscal Year 2014 maintenance request of $589 million and the $22 million needed for a judicial pay raise. The Governor was sympathetic and appreciated the BBA’s commitment to court advocacy. He also understands the need for fully functioning courts and agreed that our judges are woefully underpaid.

In addition to meeting with the decision makers, we took our advocacy on the road to meet with those directly affected by the Trial Court’s budget.  BBA President J.D. Smeallie hosted his own state representative and state senator at Salem District Court.  This informal meeting also included the Essex County Legislative Caucus, Trial Court Administrator Harry Spence, clerks, judges and other court staff. This meeting offered an open forum to discuss the current state of the understaffed departments within the courthouse and what effect it has had on the administration of justice. Legislators that attended the meeting included Representatives John D. Keenan, Lori A. Ehrlich, Theodore C. Speliotis, Jerald A. Parisella and Senators Kathleen O’Connor Ives and Joan Lovely. Due to the success of this meeting and the impact of having court personnel speak on issues they face on a day to day basis, the BBA will continue to take court advocacy on the road by visiting other courthouses across the Commonwealth.

Civil Legal Services Advocacy

We are co-sponsoring the 14th annual Walk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid again this year.  This event, one of the largest advocacy events of its kind will take place on January 30th at 11 am at the State House.  Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC), the largest funding source for civil legal aid programs in the Commonwealth, will be requesting $15.5 million for legal services, a $3.5 million increase over last year’s budget. This money is needed to avoid further layoffs and service cuts that would force programs to turn away even more residents who need legal help.

We also raise money for legal services through our charitable arm, the Boston Bar Foundation (BBF). In 2012, the BBF made grants totaling $1 million to 24 Massachusetts community organizations providing a wide variety of core legal services – from domestic violence and immigration to housing and homelessness.  Each year the BBF hosts the John and Abigail Adams benefit to raise money to support is mission of promoting justice. The Adam’s Benefit will take place this year on Saturday, January 26 this year. Tickets are still available!

The Boston Bar Association works year round on a variety of fronts to increase legal aid and secure funding for our Courts. We take serious our commitment to ensuring that all citizens of the Commonwealth have access to justice.

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Breaking it Down, Knowing the Facts, Simplifying our Message

Earlier this week, the Legislature kicked off the Fiscal Year 2014 budget season with the Consensus Revenue Hearing.  This annual hearing came on the heels of last week’s announcement that there is a $540 million budget shortfall for the current fiscal year – Fiscal Year 2013.  The goal of the Consensus Revenue Hearing is to gather information from experts and economists who opine on the local impact of national economic trends.  This information is then used to come up with an actual consensus revenue budget number.  The consensus revenue budget number represents the level of spending agreed upon by the Governor, the Speaker and the Senate President, and is then used as the basis for the budgets proposed by the three branches.

It’s important that the consensus revenue process – and the ultimate consensus revenue number – is supported by outside experts.  The public needs to know that our state budget is grounded in facts and reason and not politics.

At the BBA, we’ve already been talking about the FY14 budget for weeks now.  As we do each year, we continue to meet with the leaders of the Judiciary to gather facts about the current state of our Massachusetts’ courts.  What we are learning from these meeting we are using – and will continue to use – to persuade legislative leaders that the entire justice system is underfunded.  All signals from the state on the budget front still point to things looking bleak.

Take a look at what our partners at the Equal Justice Coalition have been working on as they ramp up efforts for the FY14 budget.  They’ve prepared persuasive arguments that demonstrate the need for an increase in the state appropriation for legal services.  This week, the EJC released its latest fact sheet detailing the daunting financial burden placed on civil legal services organizations.  The fact sheet also shows how state money invested in civil legal services brings in new federal revenue and ultimately saves money for Massachusetts.

Our lawyers get it.  They understand the benefits associated with funding civil legal services programs and a lot of our lawmakers do too.  But as lawyers and constituents we need to make sure our legislators really get it.  Some legislators may not be as familiar with exactly how these civil legal service programs can help their constituents.

Check out the EJC’s clear and simple message contained in the FY14 Legislative Campaign Talking Points for the Private Bar also released this week.   It’s straightforward, hits the highpoints and also provides additional facts to back up the argument that an increase in civil legal aid for FY 14 is smart and a win-win for everyone.  The talking points provide lawyer-constituents with the necessary information to give a quick, concise pitch to their legislators for increased funding for legal aid.  The goal is to make sure that legislators understand the benefits of funding legal aid for their constituents, support it, and most importantly include an increase in funding for civil legal aid as one of their budget priorities when the time comes to discuss their own budget priorities with leadership.

– Kathleen Joyce
Director of Government Relations
Boston Bar Association
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Probate Bill and State Budget Get Go Ahead from Gov

As the formal session winds down (ending July 31st), the Governor last weekend signed into law two major bills the BBA has been tracking: An Act further regulating the Probate Code and establishing a Trust Code and the State Budget for FY2013.  Here’s a quick snapshot of these pieces of legislation:

Probate Code and Trust Code

The Massachusetts Uniform Trust Code (MUTC), corrections to the Massachusetts Uniform Probate Code (MUPC) and a revised fee schedule for the Probate Court represent a major victory for trusts and estates attorneys, the probate bench and the public.  These measures became effective immediately and will provide greater clarity and predictability for attorneys and clients.

The MUTC, now known as Chapter 140 of the Acts of 2012, codifies the laws of trusts and makes them more accessible and easier to understand.  With the passage of the MUTC, Massachusetts becomes the 24th state to have adopted the Uniform Trust Code (the District of Columbia also has the UTC).

The technical changes to the MUPC are intended to make the time-saving and efficiency of proceedings available to more estates.  Other sections of the legislation make corrections to the guardianship provisions of the MUPC to promote availability of medical information to the Court and to add flexibility for the Court to authorize guardians to place incapacitated person in nursing homes.

The revised fee schedule includes updated references to many actions and pleadings that are already being used under the MUPC.  Of specific importance are the revised fees for the first bond and first letter.  Under the revised fee schedule, there is no separate charge for the initial appointment bond of the fiduciary, or for the issuance of the first letter.

For additional information, check out this blog post drafted by the BBA Trusts and Estates section.  The Probate & Family Court also provides regular updates on its MUPC hub page.

State Budget

Governor Patrick has signed the FY13 state budget after taking the full 10 days allowed for reviewing the spending plan produced by the Legislature.  For the first 8 days of FY2013, the Commonwealth was operating on a temporary $1.25 billion interim budget.

The FY13 budget has huge implications for the welfare system, immigration status verifications and other policy areas.  As we’ve noted in this space in previous posts, the BBA took great interest in a few select line items:

  • The Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC) received $12 million in funding.  While this figure falls short of the original request of $14.5 million, it will allow MLAC to continue providing legal services at its current level and to avoid MLAC needing to make further cuts to the organizations that it funds.
  • The Trial Court received $550,977,000 for FY13.  Governor Patrick did veto $10 million from the line item reserved for Probation.  The Governor noted that he believes the new figure meets the projected responsibilities and caseloads.  The Trial Court plans to ask the Legislature to override the Governor’s $10 million veto from Probation’s line item.

-Government Relations Department
Boston Bar Association
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Cleaning Up Loose Ends

As of this writing, Massachusetts has just 23 days to finalize the $32.4 billion state budget.  With differences between the House (H  4101) and Senate (S 2275) versions of the budget, now is the time for negotiations conducted by the recently named budget conference committee. Serving on that committee are the House conferees Representative Brian Dempsey, Representative Stephen Kulik and Representative Viriato deMacedo, and Senate conferees Senator Stephen Brewer, Senator Jennifer Flanagan and Senator Michael Knapik.  As you may recall, the House budget was finalized in April and the Senate’s version was finalized at the end of May.  Once the conference committee has agreed on the details of the budget, it will be reviewed by Governor Patrick before he signs it.  The goal is to get this all done by July 1st.

Just for the record, the BBA has a particular interest in line item 0321-1600 – Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC).  MLAC’s request for fiscal year 2013 was $14.5 million – check out MLAC’s fact sheet.  Both the Governor and the House proposed funding MLAC at $12 million, while the Senate only appropriated $11.5 million.  The BBA will be working with our legal services partners to secure at least the $12 million provided by the Governor and the House.

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An update on another conference committee the BBA is watching with interest… For the past six months, the crime bill conference committee has been meeting to settle differences between a habitual offender sentencing reform bill that the House approved and a much larger crime package passed by the Senate.  Both sides have expressed optimism that a compromise bill will be ready before the end of July.

Among the issues still being negotiated and discussed by the crime conference committee are the list of crimes that would trigger a “three-strikes” elimination of parole, a reduction to the size of school zones that carry increased penalties for drug crimes and a reduction in mandatory minimum sentences.

While Massachusetts has a year round Legislature, formal sessions end on July 31st.  But, the Legislature will continue to meet about twice a week through December in informal sessions. There’s a push to get this crime bill (and many other bills too) completed by the end of July because it can be challenging to advance a major piece of legislation during an informal session.  During an informal session, if even one member of the Legislature raises an objection, this brings the informal session to a halt – thereby blocking the progress of any bill being considered.

We expect a lot of activity over the next few weeks as the Legislature works to complete a number of its priorities.  In addition to the work on behalf of MLAC and working to push for mandatory minimum sentence reform for nonviolent drug offenses, the BBA will continue to try to get our other bills over the final finish line for this session.

– Kathleen Joyce
Director of Government Relations
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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Good News, Bad News on State Budget

Today, the House of Representatives voted to advance a supplemental budget that includes an additional $1 million for the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC).  This additional money will be used to offset deficiencies for the Fiscal Year that ends on June 30, 2012.  With exactly two weeks to go until the 13th annual Walk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid, this comes as a bright spot during a week when there hasn’t been a lot of good news around the state budget.

Last week’s Supreme Judicial Court decision raised more concerns about the state budget.  The SJC found that Massachusetts’ denial of legal immigrants’ access to a state-run insurance program was discrimination and a violation of their equal protection rights under the state Constitution.  In 2009, while trying to cut costs and save money, the Legislature voted to remove legal immigrants from Commonwealth Care, the state’s subsidized health care program.  Following this, Governor Patrick created the Commonwealth Care Bridge program to provide basic health care for the individuals who were no longer covered under the state funded program.

The SJC’s ruling will have a significant fiscal impact on this year’s state budget and next year’s state budget as well.  Secretary of Administration and Finance Jay Gonzalez said that the ruling could cost the state upwards of $150 million, meaning that the other pieces of the budget pie just got a little smaller.

For the last two budget cycles, MLAC has been level funded at $9.5 million.  This year they are requesting an additional $5 million, bringing their budget request up to $14.5 million.  At first, this might see like a steep increase in their funding request but, in reality, level funding for MLAC has actually been a functional shortfall.  Let’s not forget that MLAC actually brings money into the state.  State money spent on legal services is an investment that continually pays off.

One great example of this from FY10 is the Disability Benefits Project which received $1.2 million from MLAC.  The Disability Benefits Project helped secure SSI/SSDI benefits for Massachusetts residents and yielded $8.6 million in new federal revenue and $795,000 in direct reimbursement to the state.  Other cases that are handled by legal services attorneys include employment disputes, disability claims and evictions that, if not handled by an attorney, can end up costing the state in the end.

No line item exists in a vacuum.  But let’s not be short-sighted.  Adequate funding for MLAC is an investment we can’t afford to ignore.

– Kathleen Joyce
Director of Government Relations
Boston Bar Association
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