May 27, 2015 – The State Bar of Wisconsin applauds members of the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee (JFC) for approving a measure that will provide increased funding for civil legal services. Lead by budget motion sponsors Rep. Michael Schraa (R-Oshkosh) and Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills), the JFC voted unanimously to provide $500,000 annually to the Wisconsin Trust Account Foundation, Inc. (WisTAF) in grants to service providers.
The funding source for the $1 million over the biennium is from the Federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. The grants must be for services related to domestic abuse, sexual abuse, and restraining orders and injunctions for individuals at risk under s. 813.123. The annual grants can’t exceed $75,000 and WisTAF is required to submit a funding plan and details on how the grant money was used. WisTAF currently administers grants from the Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts (IOLTA) program and the Public Interest Legal Services Fund (PILSF) program.
JFC Approves Pay Progression for ADAs, DDAs and ASPDs
Joint Finance Committee members also approved the continued funding of a pay progression system for Assistant District Attorneys (ADAs), Deputy District Attorneys (DDAs), and Assistant State Public Defenders (ASPDs). In his proposed biennial budget, Gov. Scott Walker did not include any funding for the continuation of the pay progression program, which started last biennium as a means to support and retain talented attorneys saddled by the lack of funding for salary increases.
The unanimous vote by the Joint Finance Committee provides more than $1 million over the biennium – or approximately, a 2 percent salary increase for eligible attorneys.
Committee Provides Additional Staff for SPD, Rejects Conflicts Office
The State Public Defender (SPD) received approval to add 35 new positions to their office. The position funding was made possible by a reduction in private bar funding. The SPD will assign the new employees to rural areas where there is a lack of attorneys willing to take private bar referrals. Based upon information provided by the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB), providing more staff should reduce workload and the amount of funds going to private bar accounts. At $40 an hour, members of Wisconsin’s private bar receive the lowest hourly rate in the nation.
The committee also voted to reject a proposal from Gov. Walker that would have created a two-year pilot program for a conflict office for felony cases in Milwaukee, Waukesha and Racine Counties.
Cale Battles is a government relations coordinator with the State Bar of Wisconsin. He can be reached at org cbattles wisbar wisbar cbattles org, or by phone at (608) 250-6077.
Second Chance Legislation Left Out
The governor and committee members chose not to include funding for the Second Chance initiative, which would return 17-year-old nonviolent, first time offenders to juvenile court for certain low level offenses. Advocates, including the State Bar, have been lobbying the Legislature for this change because Wisconsin is one of only nine states that treat 17-year-olds as adults.
The State Bar will be working with other coalition advocates during the fall session to introduce the Second Chance legislation as a stand-alone bill.
What Happens Next in the Budget Process?
The Joint Finance Committee is finishing their work on the budget. The Legislature will then debate and vote on the proposal by mid-June, with the governor signing the budget bill before July 1, 2015, when the new fiscal year begins.