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Juneau – On the final day of the 30th Alaska Legislature, the Alaska State Senate passed legislation sponsored by Representative Matt Claman (D-Anchorage) to safeguard Alaskans’ access to the civil justice system by creating a stable and sustainable mechanism for funding the Alaska Legal Services Corporation (ALSC).
House Bill 106 would allow the legislature to appropriate up to 10 percent of the filing fees received by the Court System during the previous fiscal year to the Civil Legal Services Fund. It further allows for appropriations to be made from that fund to organizations that provide civil legal services to low‐income individuals, like the Alaska Legal Services Corporation.
“The Civil Legal Services Fund was created in 2007 with widespread bipartisan support to help ensure civil legal representation for Alaska’s most needy populations. The fund was originally designed to be capitalized by civil punitive damages collected by the state. However, in 2017, the Attorney General’s Office reported that in the last four years, the state had collected only $15,000,” said Rep. Claman.
ALSC, established in 1967, is a private, non-profit law firm whose funding comes from a variety of state, federal, and private sources. ALSC provides free legal help to seniors, veterans, disabled Alaskans, children, low income workers & consumers, and domestic violence victims. ALSC is dedicated to protecting those across Alaska who cannot afford to hire an attorney of their own.
Since 1984, the number of Alaskans who qualified for legal services has more than doubled, from 41,000 to over 100,000. Yet currently, the state’s contribution to ALSC is only a fraction of what it was 30 years ago. State appropriations to ALSC have declined from a high of $1.2 million in 1984 (worth about $3 million today when adjusted for inflation) to just $450,000 as of 2016.
“ALSC does critical work on behalf of seniors, veterans, disabled Alaskans, children, low-income workers and consumers, and domestic violence victims. However, at current funding levels, ALSC turns away hundreds of families seeking assistance each year due to resource limitations. House Bill 106 aims to reduce Alaska’s civil justice gap that ALSC has tried to bridge for over 15 years by stabilizing ALSC’s funding and helping ensure that civil legal aid is available to all Alaskans, not just the few who can afford it,” said Rep. Claman.
In March of 2017, House Bill 106 passed the Alaska House of Representatives by a vote of 33-3. Saturday, the bill unanimously passed the Alaska Senate and the House concurred with the Senate changes. The bill has now been sent to Governor Bill Walker for his signature.
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