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senate Bill S. 717

Should U.S. Attorneys’ Offices Promote Pro Bono Legal Services for Survivors of Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault?

Argument in favor

Lack of financial resources shouldn’t be an impediment to domestic violence survivors’ efforts to leave their abusers. The civil legal system is complicated, and having an attorney significantly improves survivors’ odds of success in court. In the absence of public defenders, pro bono legal services — while imperfect — are better than no legal services at all.

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07/17/2018
This would be so unbelievably helpful for survivors of abuse. It is SO difficult to leave an abuser, especially if they have control of the finances. This could save A LOT of people.
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Jennifer 's Opinion
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07/18/2018
Over a 9 yr period I directed DV/SA shelter programs, and applaud the legislator’s intent. Although, it only “promotes,” pro bono services, its intent is a good one. Women not only lack proper legal representation—most have only shelter advocates as support and often face off against a partner who has obtained an attorney—in obtaining protective orders. But their greatest fear is losing custody of their children. Uneducated judges often then allow “visitation,” with no requirements for safety. Or sometimes with a sorrowful partner and their attorney suggesting couples counseling—it becomes an even more unsafe mandate used against the DV survivor, and often does more harm than good. But, here is why I voted yeah! I would add, yeah, only if those lawyers representing the DV survivor have received an initial training on the dynamics and the pitfalls to avoid when facing off against a batterer. But let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water. It’s a start in providing a much needed resource to s very underserved population. Please consider these amendments.
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SneakyPete's Opinion
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07/17/2018
“PRO BONO LEGAL SERVICES” It’s my opinion that this legislation should be passed by unanimous consent very quickly. Lack of financial resources shouldn’t be an impediment to domestic violence survivors’ efforts to leave their abusers. The civil legal system is complicated, and having an attorney significantly improves survivors’ odds of success in court. In the absence of public defenders, pro bono legal services — while imperfect — are better than no legal services at all. 7*17*18 ........
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Argument opposed

Pro bono legal assistance, while well-intentioned, may not meet survivors’ needs. Domestic violence is a dangerous situation, and involving volunteers who may not be adequately trained in crisis response in survivors’ efforts to extricate themselves from their situation may put both volunteer attorneys and survivors in danger.

Dicr's Opinion
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07/17/2018
You have to look closely at any legislation republicans bring to the floor. This sounds great but really doesn’t provide for anything more than a little guidance that may or may not be beneficial to a victim. This bill should have more “teeth”.
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Jane's Opinion
···
07/17/2018
I struggle with this one........I was in an abusive relationship for 10 years. Truly the lowest point of my life. But I got myself in to it, then I got myself out. That being said, not once did I feel like someone else should pay for the mistake I made. The other issue with this is the problem of being able to prove abuse, law enforcement is still on a slippery slope when having to deal with domestic abuse. I can see this costing far too much of our tax dollars. If this was set up to protect just children of abuse I would be all over it but, adults need to take care of themselves.
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tituswife's Opinion
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07/17/2018
This bill is discriminatory, since it will only serve women. Have courage senators. #NoMoreVoiceVotes
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bill Progress


  • EnactedSeptember 4th, 2018
    The President signed this bill into law
  • The house Passed July 17th, 2018
    Passed by Voice Vote
      house Committees
      Committee on the Judiciary
      Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security
  • The senate Passed August 1st, 2017
    Passed by Voice Vote
      senate Committees
      Committee on the Judiciary
    IntroducedMarch 23rd, 2017

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What is Senate Bill S. 717?

This bill — known as the POWER Act — would promote pro bono legal services to empower survivors of domestic violence. By promoting pro bono legal services for domestic violence survivors, this bill would aim to alleviate the current shortfall between pro bono legal service availability and survivors’ need for such services.

Under this bill, U.S. Attorney’s offices, in partnership with domestic violence service providers or volunteer lawyer projects, would be required to conduct events to promote pro bono services for survivors of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking:

  • U.S. Attorney’s offices in all 94 judicial districts across the country must conduct an event to promote pro bono legal services for survivors at least once a year,

  • U.S. Attorney’s offices in judicial districts that contain Native American tribes or tribal organizations must conduct a public event to promote pro bono legal services for Native American or Alaska Native survivors at least once every two years.

In conducting these events, U.S. Attorneys’ offices would have to try to maximize the local impact and provision of high-quality pro bono legal services to survivors. They’d also have to report to the Dept. of Justice (DOJ) on the public events they conduct, while DOJ would compile and summarize the reports’ results and submit them to Congress.

The bill’s full title is the Pro bono Work to Empower and Represent (POWER) Act of 2017.

Impact

Domestic violence survivors; sexual assault survivors; attorneys; pro bono legal organizations; U.S. Attorneys’ offices; and Dept. of Justice.

Cost of Senate Bill S. 717

A CBO cost estimate for this bill is unavailable. However, there should be no budgetary impact, as the legislation specifies that the DOJ’s administrative office should use existing funds to carry out the requirements of this bill.

More Information

In-Depth: Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK) introduced this bill to help combat domestic abuse and sexual violence:

“Pro bono assistance… [is a] particularly helpful tool in giving hope to victims of domestic violence. The POWER Act will bring this tool to more communities, encouraging lawyers across the country to get involved and help victims who too often fear or are unfamiliar with the justice system.”

The American Bar Association (ABA) supports this bill as part of its overall support for bar members engaging in pro bono work. The bill as written includes language from the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct, calling pro bono legal service work potentially “one of the most rewarding experiences in the life of a lawyer.”

Domestic Violence Action Center (DVAC), a Honolulu-based agency that provides legal assistance and outreach to victims of domestic abuse, is opposed to this bill, as it believes that the legislation as is — which doesn’t include funding to fulfill its mandate — wouldn’t provide the financial resources needed to adequately meet the demand for services. Some DVAC-affiliated specialists even say they believe the legislation could be counterproductive because of the severity of the danger posed by abusers. Nanci Kreidman, chief executive officer of DVAC, notes that pro bono legal assistance may do more harm than good:

“Pro bono legal assistance is problematic for several reasons. Untrained attorneys assisting survivors who may be in life-threatening situations can be potentially fatal. All attorneys must be trained to understand the risks and the right set of practices and interventions to be helpful, and not harmful.”

There are 11 cosponsors of this bill, (including six Republicans and five Democrats. 

This is the second time this bill has passed the Senate. Sen. Sullivan successfully moved the POWER Act through the Senate in 2015, but it was held up in the House. This year, the Senate passed the bill unanimously, and the House is taking up a slightly different version of the legislation. There, Sen. Sullivan hopes that a bipartisan group of lawmakers, including Rep. Don Young (R-AK) and Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-MA), can help move it across the finish line.


Of NoteOne in four U.S. women will experience domestic violence over the course of their lifetimes. Domestic violence survivors’ need for legal representation is significant. According to the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) , the second-most-requested service for domestic violence shelters is legal representation to obtain protective orders. Currently, there is far from adequate pro bono service availability to meet survivors’ needs: on a single day in September 2014, over 10,000 requests for services, including legal representation, were unmet. Frequently, lack of access to legal services prevents survivors from finding the assistance needed to stop the cycle of abuse and escape their abusers.

When legal assistance is rendered available, outcomes are significantly improved for survivors. For example, without an attorney, the probability that a survivor will be granted a protective order is 32% — with an attorney, that number rises to 83%.


Media:

Summary by Lorelei Yang

(Photo Credit: nito100/ iStock)

AKA

POWER Act

Official Title

A bill to promote pro bono legal services as a critical way in which to empower survivors of domestic violence.

    This would be so unbelievably helpful for survivors of abuse. It is SO difficult to leave an abuser, especially if they have control of the finances. This could save A LOT of people.
    Like (19)
    Follow
    Share
    You have to look closely at any legislation republicans bring to the floor. This sounds great but really doesn’t provide for anything more than a little guidance that may or may not be beneficial to a victim. This bill should have more “teeth”.
    Like (14)
    Follow
    Share
    Over a 9 yr period I directed DV/SA shelter programs, and applaud the legislator’s intent. Although, it only “promotes,” pro bono services, its intent is a good one. Women not only lack proper legal representation—most have only shelter advocates as support and often face off against a partner who has obtained an attorney—in obtaining protective orders. But their greatest fear is losing custody of their children. Uneducated judges often then allow “visitation,” with no requirements for safety. Or sometimes with a sorrowful partner and their attorney suggesting couples counseling—it becomes an even more unsafe mandate used against the DV survivor, and often does more harm than good. But, here is why I voted yeah! I would add, yeah, only if those lawyers representing the DV survivor have received an initial training on the dynamics and the pitfalls to avoid when facing off against a batterer. But let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water. It’s a start in providing a much needed resource to s very underserved population. Please consider these amendments.
    Like (11)
    Follow
    Share
    I struggle with this one........I was in an abusive relationship for 10 years. Truly the lowest point of my life. But I got myself in to it, then I got myself out. That being said, not once did I feel like someone else should pay for the mistake I made. The other issue with this is the problem of being able to prove abuse, law enforcement is still on a slippery slope when having to deal with domestic abuse. I can see this costing far too much of our tax dollars. If this was set up to protect just children of abuse I would be all over it but, adults need to take care of themselves.
    Like (10)
    Follow
    Share
    “PRO BONO LEGAL SERVICES” It’s my opinion that this legislation should be passed by unanimous consent very quickly. Lack of financial resources shouldn’t be an impediment to domestic violence survivors’ efforts to leave their abusers. The civil legal system is complicated, and having an attorney significantly improves survivors’ odds of success in court. In the absence of public defenders, pro bono legal services — while imperfect — are better than no legal services at all. 7*17*18 ........
    Like (7)
    Follow
    Share
    Please support survivors of abuse and sexual assault! To many abusers and rapists go unpunished because the victims can’t afford to take legal action. Please protect these survivors!
    Like (6)
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    There are millions of victims of domestic violence and sexual assault each year. Their traumas reverberate through families and impact children. The legal system should not be mystifying and inaccessible to them; instead, it should be a tool to protect themselves and others and begin healing. Pro bono legal services can be an important part of that process.
    Like (4)
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    They should promote any pro bono services they offer. Money should never hinder or be an issue for anyone seeking legal services.
    Like (4)
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    Yes but not just under these circumstances but all. Pro Bono services should be reformed to meet every need. Legal services are just as horrible in this country as healthcare is right now. Both need to be fixed as of yesterday. You shouldn't have to be rich to afford either.
    Like (3)
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    They are victims! Why would one not make pro bono services available? Perhaps 1 of those “ services” strengthens self-respect/survival?
    Like (3)
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    We don’t know based on this blurb whether the bill does anything to address the shortfall of Pro bono legal services for women who need them. Merely “promoting” counsel without providing funding to meet the demand is merely lip service.
    Like (2)
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    It’s start in a much needed area. This is more than what’s available now.
    Like (2)
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    This works when she/he leaves the partner and he/she faces financial hardship that's not his/her fault.
    Like (2)
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    Republican sponsorship automatically makes it suspect. That said, quality legal work provided pro bono for domestic violence survivors is essential. Leaving an abuser is dangerous to do. Survivors often don’t have the resources necessary to pay for quality legal representation on top of the other expenses and stress of leaving. Pro bono work is something they definitely need.
    Like (2)
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    I’m confused. Do DAs charge victims?!
    Like (2)
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    As always another good thing to provide to those that may need it but once again its something this nation can ill afford. We are 21 TRILLION in DEBT! Everyone but the GOP Freedom caucus doesn’t seem to get it. The debt is a ticking time bomb that will change our lives and those of of our children and their children for the worse for many years. There are lots of good things besides this that our government can pay but isn’t it time we actually balance a budget and make the hard decisions regarding our spending. After all this nation has a huge SPENDING problem and our legislators don’t know how to say NO! Things like this should be privately funded versus forcing everyone to pay into the government. The government should not be a charitable funds distributor but that is what it has become. It steals money from those that EARN it then distribute it to those who don’t.
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    This bill is discriminatory, since it will only serve women. Have courage senators. #NoMoreVoiceVotes
    Like (2)
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    No
    Like (1)
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    Even though pro bono legal services are not the best kind of services that are available to victims, I think that this will definitely help to ensure that victims of sexual assault receive the legal assistance that they need.
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    Please make effort to get issue passed
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