Is the Texas Legislature Turning its Back on the Poor?

As the Texas legislature is coming to a close, it appears that those who are often in immediate need of legal assistance, but who cannot afford it, are going to be left out in the cold by the currently proposed budget. Senate Bill 1811 was sent to Conference Committee to enable the House and Senate to reach an agreement on a budget that would control state fiscal matters for the next two years. As originally written, critical legal aid funding was not included in the bill. The proposed legal aid funding would provide up to $23 million financial resources to legal aid clinics throughout the state who assist in representing civil clients who can least afford a lawyer.

The Access to Justice Foundation and the Access to Justice Commission have been working hard this legislative session to convince legislators to include in the state budget a provision to provide much needed funding to legal aid clinics throughout the state. State Senator Jose Rodriguez proposed the most recent amendment to the Fiscal Matters bill that would provide legal aid funding to assist veterans, senior citizens, victims of domestic violence, and families facing foreclosure – a group of citizens who do not have their own legal teams or financial resources at their disposal. Without this amendment, layoffs at legal aid centers throughout the state, as well as other legal services programs are inevitable.

Currently, only one in five Texans in need of legal aid help are being served because of existing funding limitations. The Rodriguez amendment had won bipartisan support including that of Republican Texas Supreme Court Justice Nathan Hecht.