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NY: Increasing Funds for Legal Services for the Poor

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Thursday, June 7, 2007

NY: Increasing Funds for Legal Services for the Poor

EVENT: 2007 Legislative Season Review

Progressive States Network and the Center for American Progress are hosting an event in Washington, D.C. on Thusday June 14th at 9am where legislators will discuss recent progressive gains in their states.

RSVP here to join us.

Increasing Democracy

by J. Mijin Cha

NY: Increasing Funds for Legal Services for the Poor

New York Governor Elliott Spitzer announced new regulations that will increase fourfold state spending on civil legal services, critical help in protecting the working poor's legal rights regarding housing, protection from domestic abuse, child support and essential heath care.

Under Spitzer's proposal, the additional funds would come from banks required to pay a higher interest rate on funds deposited in special accounts that lawyers use to temporarily hold money deposited by clients. The New York State Interest on Lawyer Account Fund (IOLA), pools together this interest income, which is forwarded to the IOLA Fund and granted to legal services programs.  All 50 states have similar programs to provide funds for legal services.

Currently, banks in New York pay an average interest of 0.5 percent on the funds, far less than they pay to comparable accounts with savings for other purposes.  Under Spitzer's proposal, banks would be required to pay a more competitive rate of around 2.7 percent-- increasing funding for legal services from $13 million currently to as much as $65 million.  Spitzer's proposal has wide support, including Chase bank, which will voluntarily implemented the regulations even before the effective date.

Florida --the first state back in 1981 to use interest on lawyer accounts to fund legal services -- was also the first state in 2004 to require banks to offer competitive interest rates on those accounts.  The resulting revenue from those accounts rose from $22.7 million in fiscal year 2004-05 up to $67.3 million by the following year.  While many caution that even these increases leave many legal needs of the poor unmet, these new banking rules on IOLA accounts are a step in the right direction.

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Rewarding Work

by Nathan Newman

Illinois Limits School Subcontracting to Protect Employees

Illinois legislators have taken a stand against using subcontracting to undermine benefits for school support workers by passing HB 1347, a bill that will establish guidelines for school subcontracting across the state.

Corporate interests have seen privatizing public education as a potential goldmine for years. While the public has overwhelmingly rejected vouchers and most other for-profit education schemes, many cash-strapped communities have been tempted to subcontract out support services, such as food services, bus drivers and custodians, which has often meant trying to save money by chopping the wages and benefits of the lowest-paid workers in the school system.

Instead, HB 1347 requires that:

  • First, school districts must establish that subcontracting will actually save the district money, rather than just lining the pockets of private companies;
  • Second, subcontracting decisions must be subject to public discussion and input;
  • Third, no subcontracting for union workers can occur until their union contract expires;
  • And lastly, any subcontractor must save the district money through more efficient management, not by paying lower benefits.

The Illinois law adds to laws across the states that are increasingly demanding that public contracting benefit both the public and the employees effected by those contracting decisions.

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Valuing Families

by Adam Thompson

MA to Make Post-High School Education Universal

Massachusetts Governor, Deval Patrick, has announced a far-reaching education reform, including free community college and universal pre-K. Although many details have yet to be worked out, the proposed 10-year Readiness Project, would dramatically increase access to public education and aims to put Massachusetts at the forefront of education policy by making sure high school graduates have the option of either free community college or vocational options to strengthen workforce development for all students.

Gov. Patrick's proposal comes at a time when we are seeing few gains in access to and enrollment in higher education.  An annual report on education in the United States - Measuring Up 2006: The National Report Card on Higher Education - found only 8 states improved enrollment in education or training beyond high school and only 1 state improved the affordability of higher education. An even more sobering fact is that 43 states "flunked" with regard to college affordability.

As the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Vocational and Adult Education details, most jobs increasingly require more than a high school degree but not always the training of a traditional college. Making community college more affordable is a critical component to improve local economic job training for all high school graduates. 

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Research Roundup

Research Roundup

With passage of the federal minimum wage, the Economic Policy Institute has released a new study showing where state minimum wage rates will remain higher than the new federal rate in coming years.

Good Jobs First has created the Wal-Mart Subsidy Watch, a state-by-state database detailing the billion dollar plus in government subsidies received by the company, including 39 deals totaling $200 million just in the last three years.

Multiple reports in Wisconsin have highlighted corporate abuse of loopholes with the state doing little to track the problem, so the Center on Wisconsin Strategy has released a a policy report calling for the state to enact corporate tax and subsidy disclosure legislation to better inform the public and policymakers on how to reform the tax system.

In The Challenges of Change, CLASP highlights that one out of five children have immigrant parents, yet despite the need for help in integrating into American life, these immigrant children are far less likely to participate in pre-school and other non-parental child care programs, highlighting the need for greater outreach and coordination with immigrant communities on early childhood programs.

The Bell Policy Center in Colorado has released a report detailing the need for increased insurance regulation in the small-group health insurance market in order to increase health coverage, research that supports strong implementation of the just signed HB 1355 by Colorado Governor Ritter that bars insurance companies from raising premium rates on small businesses based on the health status of workers.

Highlighting the problem of states without an income tax, a Washington State Budget and Policy Center study explains that while that state has relatively lower overall tax rates than most other states, low income individuals actually pay a higher share of their income in taxes than in any other state.

Please email us leads on good research at research@progressivestates.org

Department of Corrections

On Monday, a typo indicated that Minnesota's renewable energy mandate would require 25% renewable energy by 2020; instead we meant that the state would require that "by 2025 all utilities in the state get a quarter of their energy from renewable sources and that, by 2020, the largest state utility achieve 30% renewable energy, with 25% coming from wind power."

Resources

NY: Increasing Funds for Legal Services for the Poor

New York Governor's Office, New State Regulations to Increase Funding for Civil Legal Assistance to Eligible Poor New Yorkers

IOLA Fund of the State of New York

ABA Journal Report, Expressing Their Interest: Rise in Rates Swells IOLTA, and Legal Services Gain

Illinois Limits School Subcontracting to Protect Employees

IL HB 1347

Illinois Education Association, Schools & School Employees Win Big in Subcontracting Legislation

AFSCME, Power Tools for Fighting Privatization

MA to Make Post-High School Education Universal

Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Governor Patrick Unveils Vision for Next Phase of Education Reform

U.S. Department of Education's Office of Vocational and Adult Education, The Role of Community Colleges in Workforce and Economic Development

Eye on the Right

The current immigration debate may appear to have come out of nowhere, but a coordinated, highly funded machine has been pushing for closing the gates, lock up anyone undocumented, and throw away both keys. And a good portion of the infrastructure was started by John Tanton, a mild mannered retired ophthalmologist who got his start through the Sierra Club & Zero Population Growth.

But somewhere along his path of activism things took turn an unexpected turn. What started out as a drive for a rising tide for all boats became a new breed of cryptoracist "think tanks" cited disturbingly frequently in the media. Some of the groups' funders include the Pioneer Fund, which calls for the creation of "better humans through selective breeding." Perhaps one day the media will learn the lesson: If it calls itself a think tank it's all the more suspect.

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Masthead

The Stateside Dispatch is written and edited by:

Nathan Newman, Policy Director
Mijin Cha, Policy Specialist
Adam Thompson, Policy Specialist
John Bacino, Communications Associate

Suggestions

Please shoot me an email at jbacino@progressivestates.org if you have feedback, tips, suggestions, criticisms, or nominations for any of our sidebar features.

John Bacino
Editor, Stateside Dispatch

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