DLS Committee – 2023 Legislative Update
About the Delivery of Legal Services Committee of the Maryland Access to Justice Commission. The Committee, which was formed to promote the fair administration of justice in the State of Maryland, supports and encourages free or low-cost legal services for people of limited means through legal services programs for the indigent, public interest legal organizations, pro bono publico, reduced fee, and other alternatives to traditional fee-for-service representation to provide access to the courts, and court alternatives for the resolution of disputes.
Yesterday marked the end of Maryland’s 90 day legislative session! The DLS Committee was very busy this year, taking positions and offering testimony on a number of bills. Special thanks to the legislators who championed these bills, the individuals across Maryland’s civil legal aid community who came out to testify and support. Below are just two bills that we are proud to have supported this year as a part of our ongoing effort to push for legislation that advances the delivery of legal services for Marylanders who need it most.
SB 756 Access to Counsel in Evictions – Funding
Sponsor: Senators Guzzone, Benson, Elfreth, Hettleman, Jackson, King, Rosapepe, and Zucker
Status: Passed Both Chambers!
Senate Bill 756 builds on legislation passed in 2021 and 2022 that established, and then funded, the Access to Counsel in Evictions Special Fund by making the $14,000,000 funding stream a permanent item within the Governor’s annual budget. We know that tenants with representation are more likely to have a successful outcome than those without representation. In fact, a recent study projects that 92% of represented tenants could avoid disruptive displacement with a right to counsel in one of Maryland’s three high-volume-eviction jurisdictions.
Legal representation is fundamental to safeguarding fair, equal, and meaningful access to the legal system. According to the Maryland Access to Justice Commission, there are only 1.49 lawyers available to help every 10,000 low-income individuals in Maryland. By ensuring funding for the Access to Counsel in Evictions Special Fund we can prevent the disruptive displacement that plagues so many low-income Maryland families. Because we strongly support a civil right to counsel, particularly in areas of the law where fundamental human rights are at stake, the DLS Committee was proud to support SB 756.
HB 328 State Finance and Procurement – Grants – Prompt Payment Requirement/SB112 State Finance and Procurement – Grants – Prompt Payment Requirement
Sponsors: Delegate Kaiser and Senator Kagan
Status: Passed Both Chambers!
House Bill 328/Senate Bill 112, if enacted, will bring “payment parity” to nonprofits delivering state services so that these providers will receive the same security for prompt payment that is already in law and regulation for procurement contracts.
Under current law, prompt payment laws, and the regulations that set standards for review of invoices, do not apply to the reimbursable grant agreements that are used with most state grants for the provision of health, education or social services by countless nonprofits who serve an almost endless number of Marylanders. Nonprofits in Maryland continually face delays in payments on grants that often extend several months.
Additionally, they are often forced to wait several months for an initial payment on a program with considerable start-up costs, including postponing the hiring of critical staff necessary to implement programming. This works to make participation in government programs even more economically difficult for service providers. Many legal services organizations receive a significant portion of their income from such state grants.
Without this funding legal services staff would be unable to provide direct representation of survivors of domestic violence as they seek protective orders against their abusers, assist tenants facing eviction, or provide other critical legal representation. This work is done free of charge and it would not be possible without the financial support of state grants. Yet, if the organizations were forced to continually front significant portions of this funding, without any guarantee of prompt repayment, it would be untenable. This is particularly true for smaller and younger nonprofits often led by people of color.