Throughout each legislative session and during interim years, the Commission works to ensure that lawmakers across the state understand how barriers to justice affect their constituents and raise awareness about the importance of access to justice for all Texans.
During Texas legislative sessions, the Commission hosts an ATJ Day at the Texas Legislature during which a team of volunteers visits legislators and leaders to discuss the critical access to justice issues affecting their constituents. This outreach has helped solidify legislative support for legal aid and make sure that access to justice is a priority for state lawmakers and leaders.
The 85th Texas Legislature convened January 10, 2017. The Commission supports both funding and non-funding legislation that serves to increase access to the courts for low-income Texans.
Support the Texas Supreme Court’s Legislative Appropriations Request for Basic Civil Legal Services, as well as continuing appropriations for the veterans’ legal aid and legal aid for survivors of sexual assault. The Court’s budget will pass through the general state budget bill, Senate Bill 1 by Senator Nelson/House Bill 1 by Representative Zerwas.
Alternatives to Probate
Most low-income Texans have few assets – some money in a bank account, a car, and possibly a home – but the value of these assets often exceeds the cost of probate to properly pass them to their loved ones. Last session, the Commission supported two enacted bills that made it easier for people to pass their money and their home outside probate. This session, the Commission is supporting legislation to do the same for a vehicle and clarify language in the transfer on death deed.
• Senate Bill 869 by Sen. Huffman / House Bill 1753 by Rep. Farrar would create a vehicle transfer on death, similar to a transfer on death deed. The vehicle transfer on death would allow vehicle owners to transfer their vehicle to a beneficiary upon their death without going through probate. If passed, the three assets a low-income individual is likely to own – a car, a home, and money in a bank account – will be able to pass to a beneficiary without the expense of probate.
• An amendment to the transfer on death deed (Texas Estates Code Sec. 114) is needed to clarify that the anti-lapse statute applies in all beneficiary situations.
Assistance in Court
Unfortunately, there are not enough legal aid or pro bono attorneys to help low-income people in need of legal assistance and self-help is their only recourse. Last session, the Commission supported two enacted bills that created plain language forms for pro se litigants. This session, the Commission supports legislation that will increase the pool of attorneys who can perform pro bono work and legislation that will make it easier for county law libraries to create self-help centers.
• Senate Bill 435 by Sen. Rodríguez / House Bill 1020 by Rep. Smithee and Rep. Farrar amends Chapter 81.053(a) of the State Bar Act to allow the Texas Supreme Court to promulgate rules permitting inactive members to practice law solely for the provision of pro bono legal services.
• Senate Bill 937 by Sen. Zaffirini/House Bill 1021 by Rep. Smithee and Rep. Farrar amends Sections 323.021 and 323.023 of the Local Government Code to allow counties to partner together to establish a law library and self-help center, and clarifies that counties can use law library filing fees to offset law library self-help center expenses.
Assistance in Housing Issues
Many low-income Texans seek non-traditional financing, such as owner-financing, to purchase a home. Unfortunately, these financing practices can expose Texans to a higher risk of financial exploitation and a potential loss of the home. The Commission supports efforts to ensure low-income Texans understand the financing agreement terms and reduce risk in housing transactions.
• Senate Bill 830 by Sen. Rodríguez / House Bill 993 by Rep. Walle would require non-federally related lenders to provide annual statements to borrowers with basic information about the status of their loan, including how much is owed, how much has been paid, and the breakdown of the principal and interest.
How can you help?
Tell your elected officials that you support civil legal aid and you think they should as well. Click on the link below to find out who represents you on the state level.