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Wisconsin state budget defunds legal aid for the poor

Just one day after the Wisconsin Access to Justice Commission voted to support a civil right to counsel, the state of Wisconsin took a major step back from its support for equal justice under law. Both the Assembly and the Senate voted along party lines to approve the budget, including a provision proposed by the Governor that ends all funding for indigent civil legal services in Wisconsin.  The bill now goes to Governor Walker for his signature and any vetoes.

The 2009-2011 budget provided approximately $2.5 million per year for legal services from a portion of the Justice Information Surcharge.  The 2011-2013 budget does not reduce the surcharge but eliminates the allocation and authorization of funding for indigent civil legal services. The history and basis of the funding is described in this Legislative Fiscal Bureau paper (pdf) that was prepared for the Joint Finance Committee.

Although some states are still working on their budgets, no other state has eliminated all funding for civil legal services to the poor and only one, Idaho, currently provides no state funding to help meet the basic civil legal needs of its poorest residents. For more on the impact of this decision, see this previous post.