Wisconsin is one of only three states that makes no provision in its state budget for funding civil legal aid services to low income residents.Even if you’ve heard this statistic before, it continues to shock. The result is a legal system that struggles to provide equal justice to people who don’t understand the legal processes that could result in them losing access to housing, employment, their children, child support or safety. For months, representatives from the Access to Justice Commission and legal aid groups have been meeting with members of the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee and the Governor’s staff to talk about two things: how legal aid can help Wisconsin residents resolve their legal problems more efficiently and how that assistance helps the state save money. We’ve also been listening to get a better understanding of the priorities and concerns that policymakers have when it comes to the state budget.
Based on these discussions, our focus is on a proposal that encourages the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee to provide $5 million annually in state funding over the next biennium for legal aid services to the indigent where legal assistance would: (1) help remove barriers to employment; or (2) protect vulnerable residents from abuse.
We need your help to make this effort successful. Joint Finance Committee members need to hear from their constituents that funding legal aid is a priority and how it helps make our state a stronger, safer place to live and work. If you are a judge, how does the lack of legal aid funding impact the functioning of your courtroom? If you provide social services, what legal needs are going unmet among the people you serve? If you are simply someone who cares about fairness in our legal system, how does the current lack of legal aid resources affect people in your community? The time to make your voice heard is now.
Wisconsin Access to Justice Commission