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House budget provision, to be voted on today, would eliminate over $1M funding for legal services to ‘those most in need’

A provision of the House budget, which will be voted on today, would eliminate more than $1 million in legal services programs.

The Access to Civil Justice Act funds all traditional legal services programs, including Legal Aid Legal Aid of North Carolina (LANC), Legal Services of Southern Piedmont and Pisgah Legal Services.

The Act has been around for at least 20 years, and if passed could mean reducing LANC staff across the state by 50 to 60 or more positions.

The budget provision is on page 272 of the House budget and reads “ELIMINATE ACCESS TO CIVIL JUSTICE FUNDS.” As written, it would mean that $1.50 of every court fee imposed in District and Superior Courts would no longer be distributed to the North Carolina State Bar for legal services.

The total funds that would be eliminated add up to about $1.7 million.

The North Carolina Bar Association wrote on its Facebook page today that eliminating access to Civil Justice Funds would “cause drastic reductions in legal aid agencies’ services to those most in need, undermining equal access to justice for North Carolina citizens.”

“The budget process in the General Assembly is moving very fast,” the post states. “We ask that you contact your representatives and senators in the North Carolina legislature today, as well as other legislators whom you know personally, and ask them to maintain full funding for legal aid services.”

The original budget provision also included eliminating about $1 million in funding for domestic violence services, which would have resulted in the loss of about 20 to 25 domestic violence advocates. The loss of those advocates could have mean that 2,500 or fewer domestic violence victims across the state would no longer be served.

That part of the provision is no longer included in the budget but is an example of where legislators were trying to cut funds to support other priorities.

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