Bill safeguards support for civil legal services

Among the final actions of the 30th Alaska Legislature was support of a bill to safeguard access to the civil justice system via the Alaska Legal Services Corp.

House Bill 106, sponsored by Rep. Matt Claman, D-Anchorage, allows the Legislature to appropriate up to 1 percent of the filing fees received by the court system during the previous fiscal year to the Civil Legal services Fund. It further allows for appropriations to be made from that fund to organizations providing civil legal services to low income individuals.

The Civil Legal Services Fund, created in 2007, was originally designed to be capitalized by civil punitive damages collected by the state, but in 2017, the Attorney General’s office reported that in the last four years, the state had collected only $15,000, Claman said.

ALSC, established in 1967, is a private, non-profit law firm whose funds come from a variety of state, federal and private sources. ALSC provides free legal help to seniors, veterans, disabled Alaskans, children, low income workers and consumers and domestic violence victims.

Since 1985, the number of Alaskans who qualified for legal services has more than doubled, from 41,000 to over 100,000 people, and yet the state’s contribution to ALSC is a fraction of what it was 30 years ago.

The bill was sent to Gov. Bill Walker for his signature.