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June 15, 2013
Gov. Scott vetoes civil legal assistance funds

For the third year in a row, Gov. Rick Scott vetoed a legislative appropriation for the Florida Access to Civil Legal Assistance program.

Scott nixed $1 million for the program as part of his $368 million of line item vetoes when he signed the now $74.1 million 2013-14 state budget on May 20.

Scott cited his past vetoes of FACLA appropriations, as well as monies for legal aid that will be separately available to help low-income Floridians with mortgage problems.

“We are deeply disappointed in the result but just as deeply grateful for the efforts of the many supporters and volunteers who worked diligently to educate Gov. Scott as to the importance of FACLA funding in helping provide access to justice,” said Maria Henderson, president of The Florida Bar Foundation, which administers FACLA funds.

“A foster child, a victim of domestic violence, or a disabled veteran who has been denied benefits he or she rightfully earned through service to our country are the sort of persons these funds would have helped. We thank all those who delivered that message loud and clear.”

The governor wrote that the $1 million “is vetoed as the Civil Legal Assistance funds, distributed through [T]he Florida Bar Foundation, have been vetoed for the past two fiscal years. The Attorney General is distributing $5 million from the National Mortgage Settlement this year directly to civil legal aid offices to assist homeowners in danger of foreclosure. The Attorney General will receive an additional $10 million, through Senate Bill 1852, [also from the National Mortgage Settlement] to distribute directly to these civil legal aid offices in Fiscal Year 2013-14.”

By law, FACLA funds may be used only to help those whose incomes are at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level with legal problems in the areas of family law, juvenile law, entitlement to federal government benefits, protection from domestic violence, elder and child abuse, and immigration. These issues are unrelated to mortgage foreclosure, and the funds from the National Mortgage Settlement that will be distributed by the Attorney General cannot be used for these purposes.

The Bar supported the appropriation with a legislative position that advocated “adequate funding for civil legal assistance to indigent persons through the Florida Access to Civil Legal Assistance Act.”

With state revenue up from last year, the Foundation was hopeful that the FACLA funding would survive a veto. The need has become greater since the steep and persistent plunge in IOTA funds, which have been devastated by continuing record low interest rates. The Foundation’s IOTA income has dropped 88 percent since 2008, which is expected to lead to a 70 percent reduction in its legal aid funding by 2015-16.

Also, while the mortgage settlement funds can be used only for limited help related to mortgage problems, the FACLA funds can be used for a wide range of civil and family legal services for the poor.

“FACLA was passed by an overwhelming bipartisan majority to address the civil legal needs of many of the most vulnerable in our community,” said Sarasota attorney John Patterson, president-elect of The Florida Bar Foundation. “That the Florida Legislature has funded it every year since its 2002 enactment speaks both to the broad political support and the great need for the funding.”

Prior to Scott’s three vetoes of FACLA funding, there had been only one veto in the prior nine years of the program. That came when former Gov. Jeb Bush excised a $5 million appropriation in the 2005-06 fiscal year, saying the appropriation was too high.

This year, lawmakers appropriated $500,000 in recurring revenues and $500,000 in nonrecurring funds for the program “to promote the availability of civil legal assistance to the poor and improve access to justice.”

[Revised: 10-25-2014]