A coalition of civic groups and advocacy organizations is asking the state Senate to take up a pair of bills that would expand access to legal aid in civil cases in Wisconsin.
The two proposals are Assembly Bills 115 and 116, and Chase Tarrier with End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin says they encourage state agencies to provide already existing funding to help low income Wisconsinites find legal help in civil and family court cases. “Two different approaches, both of them aimed at looking at civil legal aid, looking at where it’s limited and why it’s limited, and doing what we can do to increase the access for the people who really need it.”
Organizations supporting these bills note that the legislation would be cost-neutral to taxpayers and supplement already existing programs in the state like Judicare and Legal Action of Wisconsin.
Tarrier says that when people think of legal help, they usually think of the public defenders who help represent people in criminal cases. “What often goes overlooked is the civil legal system, and for survivors of domestic violence the civil legal system is vitally important.”
One issue that often comes up in one of these cases is an abuser trying to cut off help for a spouse or loved one by controlling their finances or preventing them from seeking aid in other ways. “Domestic violence is not about anger, it’s about control,” says Tarrier. “Abusers more often than not are the ones that have an attorney with them, and they’re going up against victims in the family law system who are more often than not pro se. So expanding civil legal aid access is really important for domestic violence victims.”
“Both of these bills are straightforward, no-cost approaches that will enhance our efforts to reduce poverty statewide,” says Clarence Johnson, Executive Director of Wisconsin Community Services. “These bills will increase state coordination and effectiveness in assisting the individuals and families WCS serves, and passage of these bills will shine an important spotlight on the role civil legal aid plays in helping low-income job seekers statewide.”
The two bills have already passed the state assembly and the senate is scheduled to hold just one more floor session on March 20th.