Bill would fund Alaska Legal Services Corp.

Proposal would direct awards from civil cases into account for group

Posted: Thursday, January 20, 2005

A proposal by Sen. Ralph Seekins would create a special account to funnel money to a legal aid group that lost its state funding last year.

Seekins' bill calls for directing punitive damage awards from civil cases involving the state into a general fund account earmarked for the Alaska Legal Services Corp.

The bill is Senate Bill 19.

The size of the account would vary each year. Last year, it would have been about $100,000, according to the Fairbanks Republican.

State funding for ALSC, a nonprofit organization that provides legal assistance to the poor, was eliminated after the Legislature slashed its appropriation to the group and Gov. Frank Murkowski vetoed the rest.

The legal aid group advises and represents poor Alaska residents on civil legal matters, with issues ranging from divorce to housing. Seekins said the state needs to support ALSC's mission.

"We provide housing assistance, medical assistance, food assistance, and there are also times when they need legal assistance," Seekins said.

Twenty years ago, ALSC received more than $1 million from the state, but money from Alaska has been whittled over time to $125,000 last year and nothing this year.

In its last session, the Legislature reduced the group's appropriation from $125,000 to $62,500. Murkowski later eliminated the appropriation from the budget through a line-item veto.

Murkowski has said it's not the responsibility of state government to fund a group that provides legal assistance to individuals.

"We've obviously got some work to do to try to make sure that everybody in Juneau understands how important an issue this is, not only to the indigent clientele we service, but to the overall smooth functioning of the court system," said ALSC executive director Andy Harrington.

Most of the group's $3 million budget comes from federal sources. ALSC operates eight offices across the state and handles a yearly caseload of about 1,700.

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