Thursday, June 4, 2015
Senate Passes Bill to Help Public Interest Lawyers
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A bill that would allow the State Bar to collect donations from members to fund a student loan repayment program for public interest attorneys was unanimously approved yesterday by the state Senate.
SB 134, by Sen. Robert Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, was previously approved by the Judiciary and Appropriations committees, also without a dissenting vote. The bill next moves to the Assembly.
If the bill becomes law, an option to donate to the Public Interest Attorney Loan Repayment Program could be added to State Bar dues statements as soon as next year.
The Judiciary Committee staff explained in an analysis of the bill that the program is authorized by legislation carried by Hertzberg when he was in the Assembly. The bill became law in 2001, but the program has never been funded.
A budget item that would have appropriated $100,000 for startup costs was vetoed by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2007.
The existing legislation designates the California Student Aid Commission to administer the program. How the commission would access the funds collected by the State Bar is uncertain, the Judiciary Committee said in its analysis.
The program is necessary, Hertzberg told the committee, because:
“The increasingly high levels of debt accrued while obtaining a law degree…make it difficult for attorneys to serve in public interest areas of law, since the average pay is lower than it is in private practice. Public interest law offices must retain talented attorneys to ensure that their clientele consistently receive an acceptable level of service and equal access to justice. . . .”
Supporters of the bill include the California Public Defenders Association, California State Conference of the NAACP, Equal Justice Works, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Hastings and McGeorge law schools, Ventura County Public Defender’s Office, and Worksafe.
Equal Justice Works is a nonprofit organization that makes grants to public interest lawyers. Worksafe promotes employee health and safety legislation.
No opposition was received, the committee analysis said.
Copyright 2015, Metropolitan News Company