December 28, 2015: New York State Bar Association Unveils Legislative Priorities for 2016

The New York State Bar Association today announced its state and federal legislative priorities for 2016.

State priorities include ensuring adequate funding for the courts, access to justice for the poor, reducing wrongful convictions, raising the age of criminal responsibility and modernizing the state Election Law.

Federal priorities include ensuring adequate funding for the federal courts and the Legal Services Corporation, supporting efforts to increase voter participation and opposing measures that would restrict the ability of states to determine how injured individuals can pursue legal remedies.

"Our 2016 legislative priorities focus on enhancing justice and fairness in New York and the nation," said New York State Bar Association President David P. Miranda. "We urge the state Legislature and Congress to act on these measures."

State Legislative Priorities for 2016

Courts and Access to Justice: The governor and Legislature must provide adequate funding for our courts so they can fulfill essential functions, including guaranteeing access to the justice system for poor and vulnerable individuals in both civil and criminal matters.

The Judiciary budget should include $100 million to provide civil legal assistance to low-income New Yorkers who face life-altering civil legal problems, including child custody, eviction, foreclosure or denial of government benefits.

In 1963, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states have an obligation to provide an attorney to felony defendants who cannot afford one. In response to Gideon v. Wainwright, New York established a county-based system to provide criminal defense. In 2006, the Commission on the Future of Indigent Defense Services stated that there is "a crisis in the delivery of defense services to the indigent throughout New York State and that the right to the effective assistance of counsel, guaranteed by both the federal and state constitutions, is not being provided to a large portion of those who are entitled to it."

In settling the class action lawsuit, Hurrell-Harring v. State, New York state has agreed to provide funds for adequate legal defense for the poor in the five counties that were named in the suit. In addition to funding for those five counties, the state should increase support and relief to all New York localities in fulfilling the mandate of the U.S. and New York constitutions to provide effective assistance of counsel for indigent criminal defendants.

Link to October 21, 2014 statement on Hurrell-Harring settlement:www.nysba.org/CustomTemplates/SecondaryStandard.aspx?id=52631.

Wrongful Conviction: Wrongful convictions cast serious doubt on a fundamental assumption of our criminal justice system-that the innocent are protected. The State Bar Association has long sought enactment of legislation requiring recording of custodial interrogations and establishing a procedure for law enforcement to follow when conducting eyewitness identifications.

Last June, the New York State Bar Association, the Innocence Project and District Attorneys Association of the State of New York announced they had agreed on wrongful conviction legislation. Link to June 2, 2015 statement:www.nysba.org/interrogationrecording/.

Later that month, the state Senate approved the bill (S.5875-A and A.8157-A), which was introduced by Senator Michael F. Nozzolio, R-Seneca County, chair of the Senate Codes Committee, and Assemblyman Joseph R. Lentol, D-Brooklyn, chair of the Assembly Codes Committee. Link to June 17, 2015 press release:www.nysba.org/wrongfulconviction/.

Raise the Age of Criminal Responsibility: Protecting the rights of children involved in the criminal justice system remains a top priority. Research shows that 16- and 17-year-olds have significantly diminished judgmental capacities, compared with those of adults. Unlike in the majority of states, in New York, children as young as 16 years old can be prosecuted as adults for criminal offenses. Raising the age of criminal responsibility to 18 would recognize what science tells us and would allow adolescents to benefit from programs and services available for children whose cases are heard in Family Court.

Link to May 27, 2015 press release: www.nysba.org/CriminalResponsibilityAge/.

Enhance Voter Participation: New York's voter participation rates continue to decline. To reverse the trend, New Yorkers should be permitted to register to vote online when contacting state agencies and on Election Day. The State Bar Association also proposes allowing early voting, giving voters greater opportunity to cast a ballot.

The State Bar also recommends streamlining ballot design to minimize voter confusion; enhanced training for polling place workers; and increasing criminal penalties for deceptive election practices and voter registration fraud.

Link to Nov. 18, 2015 press release and testimony: www.nysba.org/ElectionProcess/.

Link to 2013 report: www.nysba.org/voterparticipation.

Support for the Legal Profession: A core mission of the State Bar Association is to represent the interests of the legal profession, ensuring that attorneys are able to protect their clients' interests and effectively engage in the practice of law.

Federal Legislative Priorities for 2016

Courts and Access to Justice: At all levels of government, an independent, well-functioning judicial system, accessible to all, is a bedrock principle of our democracy.

Increased Voter Participation: In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that required certain states and jurisdictions (including parts of New York City) to submit proposed election law changes to the U.S. Justice Department or a federal court for approval, or "pre-clearance," to protect against racial discrimination. In Shelby County v. Holder, the court rejected the formula used to determine which states and jurisdictions were subject to pre-clearance review, because it relied on historic voting patterns from the 1960s.

Congress should pass the Voting Rights Amendment Act to provide a new approach to determining which jurisdictions would be subject to pre-clearance.

Immigration representation: The fate of immigrants who face civil immigration detention, removal and likely permanent expulsion from the United States is often undermined by the lack of available competent counsel necessary to navigate the "labyrinthine character of modern immigration law." Without competent counsel in immigration proceedings, a vast majority of noncitizens are ill-equipped to know where to turn for help or how to proceed in an immigration matter. The State Bar Association is committed to enactment of a statutory right to appointed counsel to ensure justice for immigrants who are confronted with legal proceedings.

Link to June 26, 2012 press release: www.nysba.org/CustomTemplates/Content.aspx?id=3082.

Link 2012 report: www.nysba.org/immigrationreport/.

Criminal Justice Reform: The State Bar Association supports proposals to reform the nation's criminal justice system, including those to reduce certain mandatory-minimum sentences, provide judges with greater discretion when determining appropriate sentences, limit the use of solitary confinement of juveniles and allow sealing convictions of juveniles in certain circumstances, and preserve cooperation incentives to aid law enforcement in tracking down kingpins.

The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015, a bi-partisan agreement by leaders of the U.S. Senate, addresses these issues.

Pay Check Fairness Act: This legislation would amend the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA), also known as the Wage Fairness Act, to revise remedies for enforcing prohibitions against sex discrimination in payment of wages.

Paid Family Leave: With the rapidly aging U.S. population and generational workforce shifts, the need for our country to revisit and address family and medical leave is essential.

The Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act ( S.786), sponsored by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, would provide workers with paid family and medical leave when the need arises.

This legislation is a timely, pragmatic and useful strategic solution in the development of a national uniform strategy and business planning approach that supports businesses and the U.S. workforce of today and tomorrow. It also would bring the United States in line with the rest of the industrialized world.

Link to Nov. 9, 2015 press release: www.nysba.org/FMILA/.

Link to 2015 report: www.nysba.org/substantivereports/.

Regulation of the tort system: Laws covering the civil justice system are the province of the states. The federal government should continue to allow the states to determine how best to provide access to the courts for the injured to seek compensation for their injuries.

Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act: The State Bar opposes a bill (S.401, H.R. 758), which would apply to all civil litigation, and that has been erroneously labeled as the Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act (LARA). The bill's supporters purport it will discourage the filing of "frivolous lawsuits." However, after enacting a similar law three decades ago, policymakers were persuaded to repeal it because it resulted in additional unnecessary litigation.

Under the prior law, federal lawsuits often became entangled with unnecessary litigation over sanctions-significantly diminishing the efficiency of the courts, adding to litigation costs and delaying the resolution of cases. This bill would reinstitute those destructive practices, and should be opposed.

Link to Sept. 24, 2015 press release: www.nysba.org/RejectLARA/.

Support for the Legal Profession: A core mission of the State Bar Association is to represent the interests of the legal profession, ensuring that attorneys are able to protect their clients' interests and effectively engage in the practice of law.

The State Bar Association's legislative priorities for 2016 were approved by its Executive Committee on Nov. 6, 2015. Link: www.nysba.org/2016LegPriorities/.

The 74,000-member New York State Bar Association is the largest voluntary state bar association in the nation. It was founded in 1874.

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Contact: Lise Bang-Jensen

Director of Media Services & Public Affairs
lbang-jensen@nysba.org
518/487-5530