The state House of Representatives this week unanimously passed a bill sponsored by a Northeastern Pennsylvania lawmaker that would put more funding toward legal services utilized by low-income citizens.
The proposal, House Bill 1337, which was sponsored by Republican State Rep. Tarah Toohill of Luzerne County, amends a 2002 law increasing funding provided through the Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network.
PLAN, as it is known, provides civil case legal assistance to lower income residents throughout the commonwealth. Cases funded through PLAN can include protection from abuse matters, evictions and emergency custody issues.
Currently, the account is funded via $2 fee placed on civil court filings and a temporary fee of $1.
H.B. 1337 would add a dollar to the fees, bringing the total to $4, according to Toohill’s office.
The original legislation helped spur $11 million in funding for the 2011-12 fiscal year alone, the legislator’s office announced.
“The passage of this bill is important to the indigent and working poor across our state,” Toohill, an attorney by trade, said in a statement. “Currently, thousands of disadvantaged citizens who qualify for legal services are being turned away due to insufficient funding.
“Each day this bill is not signed into law is another day they are denied equal assistance with civil matters, including domestic violence and eviction cases,” she continued.
The lawmaker thanked her House colleagues for their “unanimous, bipartisan support” of the measure.
This included House Judiciary Committee co-chairs Ron Marsico, a Republican from Dauphin County, and Tom Caltagirone, a Democrat representing Berks County.
Marsico and Caltagirone, Toohill stated, should be commended for “recognizing the great need for the legislation and moving it forward.”
A report put together by the Pennsylvania Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Accounts board, which works for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, said that even with the current funding source for legal services to the disadvantaged, PLAN, which has 14 offices throughout the commonwealth, still ends up having to turn away half of those who qualify for such services.
Samuel Milkes, the executive director of PLAN, told the Times Leader newspaper in Scranton Tuesday that Toohill’s work on the bill to increase the fees was much appreciated.
“We’re representing fewer people today than just a few years ago,” Milkes told the paper.
Milkes went on to say the additional funding produced by the increased fees would “make a real difference getting services to people that we might not have been able to.”