Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Assemblymember Patricia Fahy have announced the passage of legislation that would ensure all New Yorkers have equal access to quality indigent legal services (A.6202-C, Fahy).
Under the proposal, the state would gradually take over full funding of indigent legal services programs by 2023 relieving counties of their financial obligation. By requiring the state to reimburse localities for these vital legal services programs, the legislation aims to ensure access to quality legal representation for all New Yorkers and lift an expensive unfunded mandate off the counties.
"Providing quality legal representation is a crucial component to a just and effective criminal and social justice system," said Speaker Heastie. "This legislation helps secure legal representation for all New Yorkers, regardless of their ability to pay, to make sure that the justice system works equally for everyone."
Currently, each county in New York is responsible for funding legal services for persons charged with a crime and in various family court proceedings who are unable to afford counsel. However, the quality and effectiveness of the services varies from county to county often depending on the availability of funding.
"This was a landmark ruling 50 years ago and today marks a tremendous chapter in moving New York forward in fully realizing this constitutional right here in New York State by providing equitable treatment for the accused and providing serious mandate relief for counties," said Assemblymember Fahy, sponsor of the bill. This may also lead to cost savings if better legal representation leads to reduced pre-trial incarceration. A particular thanks to Albany County for bringing this issue to our attention and ultimately saving New Yorkers millions of dollars."
"For many years, we have worked hard to find a solution that would provide accessible and sustainable legal resources for the New Yorkers who need it most, " said Assemblymember Lentol, chair of the Codes Commitee. "This legislation will bring much needed financial relief for every county in this state while upholding our commitment to preserve access to legal services for all New Yorkers." A companion bill with 20 co-sponsors has been introduced in the Senate.