Members of the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee vote unanimously to increase the funding proposed in the Governor’s supplemental budget from $1 million to $6 million

STATEHOUSE – In a 14-0 unanimous vote, the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee endorsed a proposal by legislative Republicans on Thursday to increase the funding for the Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services (MCILS). The funding request, which now moves to the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee (AFA), increases the Governor’s original $1 million proposal in her supplemental budget request to $6 million.

The move comes at a time when the beleaguered public defense system, which has been described as being at the “point of failure,” has struggled to provide constitutionally guaranteed legal defense services for criminal defendants who can’t afford their own attorneys. MCILS also provides civil defense services for those who need representation for child welfare cases.

During the Judiciary Committee’s work session on Thursday, Ranking House Rep. Jennifer Poirier, R-Skowhegan, made the motion to increase the funding. After some discussion, it became apparent that all committee members were behind it and voted it out of Committee unanimously.

“This is a serious problem that has been made worse by the poor economic climate we are experiencing,” said Poirier. “What good are the protections afforded by our laws and Constitution if people cannot assert their rights and have them adjudicated?”

For Sen. Peter Lyford, R-Penobscot, who is the Senate Republican lead for the committee, failure of the system was not an option and he was pleased to see the bipartisan vote to increase the funding.

“We are in dire need to increase our funding for public defense and the million dollars that was proposed was not nearly enough to provide those services. The Republican Caucus felt $6 million was a better solution and our Democratic colleagues agreed as seen by the unanimous committee vote,” said Lyford. “We encourage our colleagues on the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee to approve this funding for these services guaranteed to citizens by our Constitution.”

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