A Record High on the Hill

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This column is written by the ABA Governmental Affairs Office and discusses advocacy efforts by the ABA relating to issues being addressed by Congress and the executive branch of the federal government.

A record number of 250 representatives from state, local and specialty bar associations joined ABA leaders in converging on Capitol Hill in late April for the ninth annual ABA Day in Washington lobbying effort.

The event–which now stretches over two days–gives organized-bar leaders a chance to meet face-to-face with members of Congress on issues of importance to the justice system and the legal profession. This year’s event was co-sponsored by the ABA’s Section Officers Conference and Young Lawyers Division, the National Conference of Bar Presidents and the National Association of Bar Executives.

“Our senators and representatives, and the administration, can make the best decisions when they directly hear from bar leaders who represent real people–including the poor, children, and victims of domestic violence and negligence–and who have to implement and work within the constraints of various laws and regulations every day,” said ABA President-elect nominee Karen J. Mathis of Denver in a welcoming statement.

Lobbying List

Bar representatives focused their advocacy efforts on these issues when meeting with members of Congress:

The Legal Services Corp. Bar representatives urged members of Congress to support a request by the LSC’s bipartisan board of directors for a funding increase to $363.8 million. Even taking into account the budgetary pressures facing the federal government, the board says that is the minimum amount necessary for the LSC to provide effective support to local legal aid offices that deliver civil legal assistance to eligible low income Americans.

Patients’ rights. Bar representatives expressed opposition to bills in the Senate and the House of Representatives that would limit rights to compensation for patients injured as a result of wrongdoing by medical care providers. The bills call for capping noneconomic damages even though recent studies in the states reveal no evidence that caps are effective in reducing medical malpractice insurance premiums or health costs.

Student loan forgiveness. Bar representatives voiced support for legislation to create loan forgiveness programs for public interest attorneys, specifically shortening the repayment period for the income-contingent repayment option of the William D. Ford Federal Direct Lending Program, a student loan program.

(More information on issues addressed by ABA Day participants is available at www.abanet.org/poladv.)

At the end of day one, participants reconvened for a reception at the Capitol Hill offices of the Jones Day law firm. During that event, ABA President Robert J. Grey Jr. of Richmond, Va., honored Reps. Frank R. Wolf, R-Va., and José E. Serrano, D-N.Y., for their efforts to improve the American justice system. Wolf is chairman and Serrano the ranking minority member of the House Appropriations subcommittee that provides funding for programs such as the LSC, the federal judiciary and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Participants met the next morning with Thad Cochran, R-Miss., chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee; Diana DeGette, D-Colo., House Democratic chief deputy whip; and Harriet Miers, the White House counsel.

The ABA’s advocacy role in Washington is nonpartisan, emphasizes Robert D. Evans, director of the ABA Governmental Affairs Office. “We advocate for the justice system and the legal profession based on the relationships we develop with members of Congress through our members and the state and local bars,” he says.

Texas Court of Appeals Justice Douglas S. Lang of Dallas, who serves as the president of the National Conference of Bar Presidents, says, “Many past state bar presidents have told me that the connections they made at ABA Day have benefited the cause of justice in their home states far beyond their expectations.”

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