Increased legal aid requested

Members of the Judiciary Committee heard testimony Feb. 17 on a bill that would increase a fee to provide additional legal aid to indigent Nebraskans.

LB1098, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Adam Morfeld, would increase civil court filing fees from $5.25 to $6.25. Revenue from the fee increase would be remitted to the Legal Aid and Services Fund, which provides legal services funding to the state’s indigent population.

Morfeld said the increase could result in an additional $400,000 to the fund annually.

“[Due to the increased use of mediation and dispute resolution], there has been a decrease in funding for the Legal Aid and Services Fund of over 17 percent in the last six years,” he said. “However, the demand for these critically important civil legal services for low-income Nebraskans has only increased.”

Milo Mumgaard, executive director for Legal Aid of Nebraska, testified in support of the bill. He said providing adequate legal aid strengthens the entire justice system.

“Low-income Nebraskans often must fend for themselves in their efforts to have the legal system work for them,” he said. “[LB1098] is a small, important step toward lessening that challenge for Nebraska’s working poor.”

Liz Neely, executive director of the Nebraska State Bar Association, also supported the bill. The association generally opposes increases to filing fees because higher fees can impede access to the court system, she said, but LB1098 is a unique case.

“We all know the number of people living in poverty and the number of people representing themselves because they cannot afford an attorney is increasing,” she said. “However, this filing fee would directly improve access to the courts by increasing funding to the Legal Aid and Services Fund.”

Tessa Hermanson, representing the Nebraska Collectors Association, opposed the bill. She said the association supports increasing funding for legal aid but opposed increased civil court filing fees as the source of revenue.

The committee took no immediate action on the bill.

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