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Wisconsin moves forward on funding civil legal aid

Justice Mosaic in CapitolWe are pleased to report that on Friday, May 14, the Wisconsin Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee voted unanimously to approve an amendment (pdf) to the 2015-17 state budget that allocates $1 million ($500,000 per year) for grants to provide civil legal aid services to low income abuse victims in Wisconsin. Jim Gramling, President of the Access to Justice Commission, had the following to say regarding the committee’s vote: “On behalf of the Access to Justice Commission, I salute the members of the Joint Finance Committee for their vote to help narrow the Justice Gap in Wisconsin. Victims of domestic violence in all four corners of the state stand to benefit from this action. Given Governor Walker’s strong support for services to domestic violence victims, I am certain he will take special pleasure in signing the Budget Bill knowing this provision is in it.”

“The motion’s sponsors, Rep. Michael Schraa and Sen. Alberta Darling are due special thanks for their role in making this possible. We also want to thank the committee’s co-chair, Rep. John Nygren, and the vice-chairs, Rep. Dale Kooyenga and Sen. Luther Olsen for their leadership throughout this process.”

This funding, which would be distributed through the Wisconsin Trust Account Foundation, will make it possible to protect and serve hundreds of Wisconsin residents who are victims or at risk of abuse across the state. The return on investment of providing timely access to basic civil legal aid services is substantial for victims and the community. It helps to reduce costs for emergency medical care, transitional housing, public benefits, police services and lost work days. Our courts also function more efficiently when victims have access to the legal help they need to navigate an often complex legal system during a difficult time in their lives.

This achievement would not have been possible without the hard work by so many access to justice supporters across the state who organized or participated in visits with legislators and their staffs, testified at public hearings, contacted individual legislators, or submitted testimony on the importance of this issue to people in the community.

The Joint Finance Committee is continuing its work on the 2015-17 budget. Once their work is complete, the budget bill will need to be passed by both houses of the legislature and signed into law by Governor Scott Walker. So, there is still work that will need to be done to make sure that Wisconsin moves forward on this issue so that our state will no longer be one of the few that does not provide for civil legal aid to the poor in the state budget.