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News & Press: State Bar News

Civil legal aid fund fails in Senate; could be revived

Friday, April 14, 2017   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Joe Menden
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A bill to create a civil legal assistance account for low-income Montanans failed in a 25-25 vote in the Montana Senate on Thursday.

House Bill 46, which would pay for the fund by raising fees for certain filings in state district court, received bipartisan support in passing the House last month, passing by a 57-43 vote.

Thursday's Senate vote fell largely along party lines, with seven Republicans joining all 18 Democrats in favor.

After the vote failed, the Senate voted to indefinitely table the bill.

According to the Legislature's bill information page, the bill is probably dead. But a bill is never completely dead until the session is over.

In fact, the bill had previously been tabled twice this session.

The Senate Judiciary Committee tabled the bill on Tuesday, but on Wednesday the Senate voted 30-20 to resurrect it, setting up Thursday's vote.

The bill also was tabled by the House Appropriations Committee on Jan. 31 after it had passed on second reading in the full House. Appropriations later reversed itself, approving it by a 12-10 vote on March 27, allowing the full House to pass it on third reading.

The bill, requested by the Supreme Court of Montana’s Access to Justice Commission, is sponsored by Rep. Kimberly Dudik, an attorney from Missoula who sits on the commission.

According to the bill’s fiscal note, it would raise nearly $700,000 a year for legal aid for low-income Montanans, starting in fiscal year 2018. Nonprofit organizations that provide or finance legal services to indigent persons in civil matters will receive the money.