Civil Legal Justice Act keeps rolling through the legislature

first_imgCivil Legal Justice Act keeps rolling through the legislature Civil Legal Justice Act keeps rolling through the legislature Clearing another hurdle, the Florida Civil Legal Justice Act — a top priority of The Florida Bar — was unanimously approved by both the House Council for Smarter Government and Health & Human Services Appropriations in late February.Sen. Dudley Goodlette, R-Naples, one of 60 legislative sponsors of CS/HB 491, said the act would help provide civil legal assistance to those who can least afford legal services. The money could be used to help victims of domestic violence, children in civil cases, immigrants, and people who need help obtaining federal benefits. The money could not be used to sue the state or any of its subsidiaries.“I can say to you as a former president of a local bar and a former member of the Board of Governors of The Florida Bar, that delivery of legal services is extremely important in this state,” he told the appropriations committee.Goodlette said it was originally hoped the act could be funded with $10 million in surplus federal dollars earmarked for transitional welfare programs as part of the welfare reform movement, but those funds wound up set aside for other uses as the state faces the budget crisis. Goodlette, however, said $500,000 is available for the act and will likely be earmarked for pilot programs.The council also adopted amendments riding with the bill that would void the act if the money is used for purposes which are found to violate the Florida or federal constitutions, and clarifies that legal assistance and advice for those noncriminal infractions in Chapters 316, 318, 320 and 322 would not be covered by the act. Goodlette noted that includes a prohibition against the money being used to fight DUI charges.Florida is one of only 11 states that provides no state funding for legal aid — something Bar President Terry Russell has made a top priority to change.While a large percentage of Florida lawyers provide pro bono services to the poor every year, those lawyers can’t help everyone, Russell said.Appropriations committee member Rep. Phillip Brutus, D-North Miami, said that, as a small-firm practitioner in South Florida, he runs “a poverty law center without the grants,” because often his clients can’t pay for services rendered. He added that the provision would help lessen that burden shouldered by private practitioners.center_img March 15, 2002 Regular Newslast_img read more

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