April 22, 2015 – Members of the American Bar Association (ABA) flocked to Capitol Hill last week for ABA Day, an annual event that gives participants an opportunity to lobby their members of Congress on a host of topics. This year, Wisconsin attorneys lobbied in support of improved civil legal services and juvenile justice reform.
In addition, lawyers from Wisconsin advocated against any proposal to require businesses with gross recepits over $10 million to use the accrual method of accounting.
State Bar of Wisconsin representatives, including President-elect Ralph Cagle and attorneys Michelle Behnke, Bill Curran, John Skilton and Paul Swanson, visited congressional offices on April 15 and 16.
The group said they received positive feedback in several offices, as members of Congress agreed to support President Barack Obama’s suggested increase in Legal Services Corporation (LSC) funding from $375 to $452 million.
The president’s request comes on the heels of significant funding cuts for LSC, which in years past made an impact on the nation’s largest single provider of funding for civil legal assistance programs, especially in Wisconsin, a state that has just two LSC recipients: Legal Action and Judicare.
Those who benefit most from Legal Action and Judicare services include veterans, victims of domestic violence, people with disabilities and individuals undergoing foreclosures or other housing issues.
Today, Wisconsin remains one of three states that does not receive any state revenue for legal aid. If passed, the president’s recommended increase would provide the state with more than $1 million in legal aid funds, bringing the state’s total funding to more than $6 million.
According to the ABA, more than 63 million Americans qualify for civil legal aid, and in Wisconsin 15 percent of families are eligible for civil legal assistance. As the number of individuals who qualify for legal aid continues to rise, half of those eligible are being turned away due to a lack of resources.
In addition to advocating for the nation’s most vulnerable, the ABA commissioned State Bar representatives to seek congressional support for the reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) and sentencing reform legislation.
“Smart-on-crime” policy has been a key element of the State Bar’s state lobbying efforts. In recent years, the State Bar has advocated for the return of nonviolent 17-year-old offenders to juvenile court jurisdiction among other justice reforms.
JJDPA, last authorized in 2002, calls for a state and community-based comprehensive approach to juvenile crime prevention. The reauthorization of this bill, which is a bipartisan measure, would require states to end jailing of youth for noncriminal status offenses, implement data-based steps to reduce racial disparities in the juvenile justice system and strengthen access to counsel.
The Wisconsin group also encouraged members of congress to support sentencing reforms, especially the Smarter Sentencing Act of 2015, another bipartisan proposal, which seeks to reduce the length of mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders.
ABA research concludes that the federal prison population has increased nearly 800 percent since 1980 and more than doubled since 1994. The U.S. now incarcerates more people than anywhere else in the world.
The attorney advocates reported that juvenile justice and sentencing reform sparked encouraging conversations with members of Congress.
Another issue the group shared with the delegation was the negative impact of legislation that would impose accrual accounting on businesses for taxation purposes.
According to the ABA, during the 113th Congress, members considered a draft of the Tax Reform Act of 2014, introduced by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp that would have required businesses with annual gross receipts over $10 million to use the accrual method of accounting rather than the traditional cash receipts and disbursement method.
Even though this legislation did not pass, if enacted this time around many law firms would be forced to pay taxes on “phantom” income long before it is actually received.
State Bar representatives encouraged members of Congress to reject any proposed legislation that includes a mandatory accrual accounting provision.
The team said that Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) has been a key supporter of the State Bar and the ABA’s positions against this proposal.
ABA Day takes place every April in Washington, D.C. For more information on ABA Day, visit http://www.americanbar.org/calendar/aba-day.html.