Texas Access to Justice Foundation
AUSTIN, Texas – HB 1079, sponsored by Rep. Senfronia Thompson, was approved by the Texas House of Representatives yesterday and moves to the Senate. SB 1906 is sponsored by Sen. Charles Perry.The bill expands the Chief Justice Jack Pope Act and would provide much-needed additional funding for the state’s legal aid system.
In 2013, the Legislature enacted the Chief Justice Jack Pope Act that was signed into law by Gov. Rick Perry. The law expanded 2009 legislation that directs the Attorney General to transfer civil penalty funds received from defendants in violation of the Deceptive Trade Practices Act (DTPA) to the Supreme Court to be used for civil legal aid grants. The Pope Act also raised the statutory cap on those transfers from $10 million to $50 million during any biennium.
The proposed bill would expand the transfer to civil penalties in areas of the Business and Commerce Code other than the DTPA and would include certain civil restitution recovered by the attorney general. The bill would not capture funds already designated to other entities under separate statutes. Representatives Sarah Davis, Roberto Alonzo, Kenneth Sheets and Jason Villalba also signed on to this bill. Representatives Joe Deshotel, Mary Gonzalez, Oscar Longoria, Morgan Meyer, David Simpson, Elliott Naishtat, and James White are co-authors.
"Legal aid provides significant help to women, children, the disabled, and veterans,” Rep. Senfronia Thompson said. “Oftentimes it means the difference between living in a home or on the streets, being self-sufficient or needing to rely on governmental assistance. HB 1079 is needed to help address the critical funding shortfall in legal aid."
The continued high levels of poverty in our state, combined with a slow recovery of the national economy, has increased the number of low-income Texans in need of free civil legal services. Currently, 5.6 million Texans qualify for legal aid for help with issues such as benefits for veterans, health care for the elderly, domestic violence and foreclosures.
Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Accounts (IOLTA) is a significant funding source for legal aid services in Texas, but those funds have decreased significantly due to historically low interest rates. Since 2007, the Texas Access to Justice Foundation has experienced a loss of more than $99 million due to the declines in funding from IOLTA. This decline in funding harmfully affects legal aid programs throughout the state.
The Texas Access to Justice Commission was created in 2001 by the Supreme Court of Texas to develop and implement policy initiatives designed to expand access to and enhance the quality of justice in civil legal matters for low-income Texans. The Commission has created several initiatives to increase resources and awareness of legal aid. For more information, please visit www.TexasATJ.org.
The Texas Access to Justice Foundation, created by the Supreme Court of Texas in 1984, is the largest state-based funding source for the provision of civil legal aid in Texas. The organization is committed to the vision that all Texans will have equal access to justice, regardless of their income. The Foundation administers a variety of funding sources, which are earmarked to assist nonprofit organizations in providing legal aid to approximately 100,000 Texas families each year. For more information, please visit: www.teajf.org.
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