Wednesday, May 4, 2005
State Bar Dues Bill Wins Assembly Judiciary Committee Backing
If Approved, Measure Would Increase Active Dues $10 and Inactive Dues $75 by 2007
By DAVID WATSON, Staff Writer
Base dues for active State Bar members would rise for the first time since 2000 and inactive dues would more than double under a measure that won approval from the Assembly Judiciary Committee yesterday.
The committee voted 7-2 in favor of AB 1529, sponsored by committee chairman Dave Jones, D-Sacramento. Jones and the committee’s five other Democratic members were joined by committee vice-chairman Tom Harman, R-Huntington Beach, in supporting the measure.
Assemblymen Ray Haynes, R-Temecula, and Dave Cogdill, R-Modesto, voted against the bill. Cogdill joined the committee for the day as a temporary replacement for Assemblyman Tim Leslie, R-Roseville, who was in Washington, D.C.
The measure would raise total dues for active members to $395 for next year and to $400 for 2007. Current dues are $390.
Inactive dues would rise from $50 to $115 next year and $125 in 2007.
In addition to base dues, dues for active members currently include assessments to support the bar’s building fund, its Client Security Fund, its discipline system, and its “diversion” program for lawyers with substance abuse problems. AB 1529 would increase the CSF assessment by $5 next year and the base dues by $5 the following year.
It would also make the CSF, diversion, and discipline assessments applicable to inactive attorneys for the first time. Currently, inactive members — whose status does not permit them to practice law — pay only $40 in base dues and a $10 building fund assessment.
The CSF assessment for inactive lawyers would be only $10. Active members would pay $40 annually under the bill’s provisions to support the fund, which reimburses clients harmed by attorney misconduct.
The $25 discipline system assessment and the $10 diversion program fee are unchanged for active bar members under the bill. The discipline assessment would also be charged to inactive members, as would a diversion program fee of $5.
The hike in base dues for active members, from $310 to $315 in 2007, would be the first increase since the bar’s authorization to assess dues was renewed in 1999 following the near-shutdown of bar functions the year before in the wake of then-Gov. Pete Wilson’s bar dues veto.
AB 1529 would also change the “scaling” system the bar uses to reduce dues assessments for lawyers with limited incomes. Current law allows a 25 percent dues reduction for attorneys whose annual income from law practice is less than $40,000 and a 50 percent reduction for those whose total income is less than $30,000.
The bill which advanced yesterday would eliminate the 50 percent cut and permit only those attorneys whose total income is less than $40,000 to qualify for the smaller reduction.
State Bar Governmental Affairs Director Anthony Williams hailed the vote yesterday, citing in particular Harmon’s support.
“We think it’s significant that for the first time in a very long time the bar dues bill enjoys bipartisan sponsorship,” Williams commented.
Under current law the bar’s authority to charge dues to the state’s lawyers expires on Jan. 1, 2006. As originally introduced, AB 1529 would have eliminated that “sunset” provision, permitting the bar to charge dues for the indefinite future at the authorized level.
But the bill was amended Monday to authorize dues only until Jan. 1, 2008.
Williams called the amended version a “compromise bill.” While the bar would have preferred a bill without a sunset provision, it will be happy if the Legislature passes a two-year authorization, Williams said.
Even without a sunset provision, Williams said, the bar probably would have had to return to the Legislature to seek dues adjustments for 2008.
Monday’s amendments also reduced the amount by which inactive dues would increase under AB 1529. As originally introduced, the measure would have increased base dues for inactive members to $90 and required them to make the same $10 contribution that active members make to the diversion program.
That would have raised total dues for inactive members to $145. The amended bill sets base dues at $65 for 2006 and $75 for 2007.
The original version of the bill did not include the $5 hike in base dues for active members, which under the amended measure would take effect in 2007.
The amended version also would make the provisions of Government Code 87103, which details the circumstances under which a public official is deemed to have a “financial interest” in a decision, applicable to members of the State Bar Board of Governors.
Business and Professions Code Sec. 6036 currently contains its own specification, applicable only to board members, of financial interests which can require disqualification. That language would be eliminated and replaced by a reference to the more general Government Code provisions.
Copyright 2005, Metropolitan News Company