State Bar representatives Brittney Weiland, President Ralph Cagle, Past President Michelle Behnke and President-elect Fran Deisinger pose with Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.).
April 27, 2016 – Attorneys from across the country attended the American Bar Association’s (ABA) Lobby Day last week, an annual event that gives participants an opportunity to lobby their members of Congress on important legal issues. The State Bar of Wisconsin’s representatives included President Ralph Cagle, President-elect Fran Deisinger and Past President and ABA Treasurer-elect Michelle Behnke.
The group lobbied Congress in support of the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) and its need for increased funding, federal sentencing reform and reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice Delinquency and Prevention Act (JJDPA).
In addition, lawyers from Wisconsin advocated against any proposal to require businesses with gross receipts over $10 million to use the accrual method of accounting and in support of preserving the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program.
The group said they received positive feedback in several offices. Many understood the importance of the LSC and the group hopes members will vote to uphold President Barack Obama’s suggested increase in funding from $385 to $475 million.
Wisconsin has two LSC grantees: Legal Action of Wisconsin and Judicare. Those who benefit most from Legal Action and Judicare’s services include veterans, victims of domestic violence, people with disabilities and individuals undergoing foreclosures or other housing issues.
According to the ABA, those qualifying for assistance have increased about 25%, with over half of those qualified being turned away due to lack of resources. In Wisconsin, 15% of families are eligible for civil legal assistance.
For more information contact Brittney Weiland, public affairs coordinator, State Bar of Wisconsin. She can be reached at org bweiland wisbar wisbar bweiland org, or by phone at (608) 250-6145.
In addition to advocating for increased funding for LSC, the ABA commissioned State Bar representatives to seek congressional support for the reauthorization of the JJDPA and federal sentencing reform legislation.
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.
“Smart-on-crime” policy has been a key element of the State Bar’s state lobbying efforts. The Second Chance Bill, introduced in the Wisconsin Legislature over the past few sessions, has garnered overwhelming bipartisan support and advocates for the return of nonviolent 17-year-old offenders to juvenile court jurisdiction.
The Wisconsin group also encouraged members of Congress to support sentencing reforms, including the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act (S. 2123) and the Sentencing Reform Act (H.R. 3713). Both are bipartisan proposals which seek to reduce the length of mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders and allow judges more discretion in sentencing below the mandatory minimum in qualified cases, among other things.
The attorney advocates reported that juvenile justice and sentencing reform sparked encouraging conversations with members of Congress.
Two other issues were shared with the delegation. First, urging members of Congress to oppose legislation that would impose accrual accounting on businesses for taxation purposes and second, reminding Congress how important the PSLF program is to Wisconsin attorneys. Currently, no legislation or budget provision has been introduced on either issue. However, it is important that neither issue is threatened during Congress’ budgeting process.
Overall, the group said that the meetings with Wisconsin’s delegation were worthwhile. 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.