The Legislative Council met on February 15 and voted to accept both the report and the recommendations from its Study Committee on Access to Civil Legal Services. The three legislative proposals will:
- Create legislation encouraging the state departments of Administration, Children & Families, Workforce Development, Justice, and Health Services to use a portion of the federal block grants they receive to assist with the civil legal needs of Wisconsin residents.
- Create an Interagency Legal Aid Coordinating Council that would be charged with evaluating how the use of federal grants for civil legal services may assist these state agencies in achieving their objectives. The coordinating council would also be tasked with preparing an economic impact study on civil legal aid.
- Authorize full-time district attorneys to provide pro bono legal services without fee in civil matters that do not conflict with their official duties.
The Legislative Council will draft and introduce legislation to implement these three recommendations. The Access to Justice Commission welcomes the prospect of a new, more coordinated approach to supporting civil legal aid in Wisconsin through funding from the Violence Against Women Act, the Victims of Crime Act, and other federal block grant programs.
The 16-member study committee was made up of 6 legislators and 10 public members, including the President of the Access to Justice Commission. The Study Committee was created in response to a unanimous request from the Wisconsin Supreme Court. The committee’s charge was”to review the funding and delivery of legal services for the indigent in civil cases. The committee shall: (1) review the need for legal services by indigent civil litigants; (2) identify additional non-GPR sources of revenue to provide civil legal services for the indigent; and (3) review current operations.”