UPDATE | By Harriet Miers, Legislative Committee Chair & Dick Tate, TATJF Chair
Thanks to the support of our state’s leadership and our Legislature, thousands more low-income Texans will get the legal help they need and deserve through civil legal aid funding. For those Texans served, access to the justice system in our state will be a reality.
Legislators approved nearly all of the Texas Supreme Court’s legal aid funding requests, and, as to funding to help victims of sexual assault and human trafficking, they even exceeded expectations.
Those of us at the Texas Access to Justice Commission and the Texas Access to Justice Foundation know that this success never would have been possible without the Supreme Court’s advocacy and the vocal support of the legal aid community and the many judges and attorneys who helped along the way.
The Legislature agreed to provide $17.56 million for basic civil legal needs funding over the next two years to help the millions of Texans who qualify for civil legal aid but are not receiving it.
In addition, the Legislature responded to the Texas Supreme Court’s requests for additional funding to provide more legal aid resources to help qualifying veterans and victims of sexual assault and human trafficking by granting:
- $3 million for direct legal assistance to veterans and their families, and
- $10 million of legal aid for victims of sexual assault and human trafficking
The Court had originally asked for $5 million in funding for victims of sexual assault and human trafficking, but Texas legislators felt it was such an important and dire need that they doubled the requested amount. These funds will be obtained through a tax levied on certain types of sexually-oriented businesses.
In 2013, the 83rd Legislature increased the amount of legal aid money that could potentially be received from violations of the Deceptive Trade Practices Act from $10 million to $50 million. They also named the legislation the Chief Justice Jack Pope Act in honor of the 100th birthday of the former Chief Justice, who remains a passionate advocate for legal aid to the poor.
This year, Chair Senfronia Thompson filed a bill that expanded the act by including money received for other civil penalties not directed elsewhere by law or Court order, including civil penalties and other payments obtained in actions for all violations of the Texas Business and Commerce Code, including violations of the Health and Safety Code and environmental and whistleblower statutes. A companion Senate Bill was filed by Senator Charles Perry.
Last year, the Pope Act brought in $6.2 million that was distributed by the Texas Access to Justice Foundation to legal aid organizations across the state. With the passage of the Chief Justice Jack Pope Act expansion, we hope to see a significant increase in funds collected and distributed across the state increasing available legal aid to the poor.
All of these developments, as well as others about which you will be hearing, are great news for Texas, low-income Texans, and legal aid organizations across the state who struggle day in and day out to meet the needs presented to them.
As evidenced by increased support for legal aid to the poor, Texas legislators understand that our great state will be made even greater by helping low-income Texans have access to attorneys they otherwise cannot afford, who, for example, keep them in their homes, or with their children, or with their health care provider.
We thank them for their support, and look forward to the brighter future their hard work has helped make possible.
Harriet Miers is a commissioner of the Texas Access to Justice Commission and a partner at Locke Lord LLP with offices in Dallas, Austin, and Washington, D.C. She served in the administration of President George W. Bush from 2001 to2007 as staff secretary, deputy chief of staff, and counsel to the president. She was the first female president of the Dallas Bar Association and of the State Bar of Texas. She received the Sandra Day O’Connor award from the Texas Center for Legal Ethics and Professionalism and the Robert G. Storey Award for Distinguished Achievement from the SMU Dedman School of Law.
Dick Tate is the chair of the Texas Access to Justice Foundation and a partner at Tate Moerer & King LLP. He has worked as an attorney since graduating in 1979 from the Bates College of Law at the University of Houston. He served as the director of the Texas Access to Justice Foundation for six years before his nomination as chair in 1999. He holds a master’s degree from the LBJ School of Public Affairs and is a member of the Texas Access to Justice Commission.