Legislation & Lobbying

Under newly introduced federal bill, public defenders would get same pay as prosecutors

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U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris of California, a former prosecutor and Democratic 2020 presidential contender, has introduced a bill that would eventually require pay parity for public defenders and prosecutors.

The legislation, introduced Wednesday, creates a $250 million grant program for public defense that requires entities receiving funds to establish workload limits for public defenders and to equalize pay beginning with the sixth year of funding. A press release is here; the Washington Post, CNN, the Associated Press, McClatchy and Roll Call have coverage.

Paralegals and investigators in public defender offices also would have to be paid the same as their counterparts in prosecution offices. Private attorneys appointed to represent defendants would have to be compensated at the same rate as private lawyers appointed to represent defendants in federal court.

The bill also reauthorizes and increases funding for a student-loan repayment program that can help public defenders pay back student loans. Repayment limits imposed on individual borrowers would be increased.

The bill is called the EQUAL Defense Act of 2019, an acronym for the Ensuring Quality Access to Legal Defense Act of 2019.

“All too often, our public defenders are overworked and lack sufficient resources,” Harris said in a press release. “This makes public defense unsustainable over the long haul.”

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