When the Wisconsin Access to Justice Commission meets on Friday it will be bittersweet due to the refusal by state legislators to take action that would remove Wisconsin from the list of only four states that provide no state funding to support civil legal services to the indigent. Volunteers from the Commission worked with staff from the State Bar of Wisconsin and representatives from numerous other organizations to develop a proposal that would have provided a small amount of state funding to meet the legal needs of abuse victims. You can read more about the Commission’s proposal here. Although there was some bipartisan interest and support for this proposal, a majority of Joint Finance Committee members were opposed. The only recorded vote was a 12-4 party line vote against a different proposal from Rep. John Richards (Richards Motion 492 and Richards Motion 493).
To get a sense of the opportunity that was missed, take a moment to consider this example of the difference that access to civil legal services made for “Jennifer.” She was a child sexual assault victim who was raped by a family member and needed the help of a lawyer to prevent Wisconsin’s legal system being used by her rapist to victimize her again in connection with the child that resulted from the assault. How have our actions measured up against our expressions of concern and support for the rights of victims and justice for all?