This article was originally posted on Issue Spot, the BBA's public policy blog. Click here to read the full article.
After just three days the House of Representatives concluded its work on a $32.4 budget that provided $12 million for the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC) and $560 million for the Massachusetts Trial Courts. This was a victory of sorts for MLAC and the Trial Court since the original House budget appropriation was less. Issue Spot reported on the House’s initial budget only a couple of weeks ago.
Thanks to our BBA members who made phone calls and sent emails to their state representatives. It made a difference. One member of the House who was present in the budget caucus room when these amendments were being discussed said there was a huge showing of support for the MLAC amendment when it was under consideration. It was also reassuring to hear that members of the House recognized the unmet needs of our justice system when the focus turned to the Trial Court. In the end, both MLAC and the Trial Court received a bump in their funding.
Among the amendments that did not pass and were therefore not included in the final House budget was an amendment that would have provided the new Court Administrator with broader authority to transfer funds within the Trial Court. Currently, transferability is authorized across the Trial Court departments, but restricted relative to Probation and Community Corrections accounts. Transferability from the latter two line items from another court line item cannot exceed 5%. The amendment would have removed the restriction and allowed transfers between any line item within the trial court to any other item of appropriation within the trial court as deemed necessary and appropriate for FY 2013.
Our work is not done.
(1) We urge you to thank the representatives that we reached out to this week. A special mention to Representatives Ruth Balser and John Keenan, both of whom were the lead sponsors on the amendments calling for increases to MLAC and the Trial Court.
(2) Please contact your senators as the Senate starts to build their version of the budget. Just as we did in the House, we need to reach out to our senators and share our personal stories of how underfunding the justice system has adversely affected us, our practice and our clients’ lives.