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.
State funding for civil legal aid has been our primary advocacy issue in recent years. Interest on Lawyer Trust Accounts (IOLTA) funds have traditionally been the main source of funding for civil legal services across the state. Unfortunately, they are at an all-time low due to falling interest rates. As a result of the continued decrease in IOLTA funds, additional state funding was sorely needed and thankfully received in both 2011 and 2013.
Along with a general revenue appropriation of $17.6 million in 2013, the Legislature passed House Bill 1445, also known as the Chief Justice Jack Pope Act, which increases the funds that legal aid can receive through Texas Attorney General civil penalties. Prior to its enactment, the amount that legal aid could receive from these penalty funds was capped at $10 million. The Pope Act raises that cap to $50 million in a given year.
The remarkable bi-partisan support for legal aid over the past few sessions has helped replace some of the funding lost during this economic downturn, but not all. Since interest rates remain low, the Commission will once again be seeking funding support from the 84th Legislature in 2015.
The 84th Texas Legislature will convene in January 2015. Primary elections were held on March 4, 2014 and the general election will take place on November 4, 2014. For a comprehensive look at who is running for which offices across the State, check out the Texas Tribune’s election bracket.
The Commission and its partners are presently working on an education campaign for current and potential lawmakers for the upcoming legislative session. The focus of these interim efforts is to provide information on access to justice issues prior to the start of session so legislative members are well-educated and prepared to continue support for civil legal services once session begins.
How can I help?
Tell your elected officials that you support state funding for 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.