Matters Relating to Children

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Senate Bill 717/House Bill 1762

Senator Dan Sullivan [R-AK] and Senator Heidi Heitkamp [D-ND] have re-introduced in the Senate the Pro bono Work to Empower and Represent (POWER)Act, with the proposed text available here.  The Bill is co-sponsored by Senator Jeanne Shaheen [D-NH], Senator Lisa Murkowski [R-AK], Senator Shelley Moore Capito [R-WV], Senator John Cornyn [R-TX], Senator Steve Daines [R-MT], Senator Orrin Hatch [R-UT], and Senator Patrick Leahy [D-VT]. The current Bill was introduced in the Senate on March 23, 2017.  It has been referred to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary.

The Pro bono Work to Empower and Represent (POWER)Act was previously introduced in 2015 as S.2280 - 114th Congress.  It passed in the Senate on November 10, 2015, without amendment.  It was referred to the House of Representatives on November 16, 2015, but no action was taken.

On March 28, 2017, Representative Joe Kennedy [D-MA-4] introduced a companion Bill to the current Pro bono Work to Empower and Represent (POWER)Act in the House of Representatives.  The text of that Bill is available here.  The Bill is co-sponsored by Representative Tulsi Gabbard [D-HI-2], Representative Don Young [R-AK-At Large], Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers [R-WA-5], Representative Susan W. Brooks [R-IN-5], Representative Ann M.Kuster [D-NH-2], Representative Patrick Meehan [R-PA-7], Representative Katherine M.Clark [D-MA-5], Representative Steve Cohen [D-TN-9], Representative Eric Swalwell [D-CA-15], Representative Niki Tsongas [D-MA-3], Representative David P.Joyce [R-OH-14], Representative Jackie Speier [D-CA-14] , Representative James P. McGovern [D-MA-2], Representative Sean Patrick Maloney [D-NY-18].  The Bill was referred to the House Judiciary Committee.

The POWER Act would require each United States Attorney, or a designee, to hold a public event at least once per year to promote pro bono legal services as a way to empower survivors of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking, and engage citizens in assisting those survivors.

The Bill includes 13 findings by Congress that focus on the widespread problem of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking, and the importance of legal professions in addressing those issued.  Specifically:

(1) Extremely high rates of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking exist at the local, State, and national levels and such violence or behavior harms the most vulnerable members of our society.

(2) According to a study commissioned by the Department of Justice, nearly 25 percent of women suffer from domestic violence during their lifetime.

(3) Proactive efforts should be made available in all forums to provide pro bono legal services and eliminate the violence that destroys lives and shatters families.

(4) A variety of factors cause domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking, and a variety of solutions at the local, State, and national levels are necessary to combat such violence or behavior.

(5) According to the National Network to End Domestic Violence, which conducted a census including almost 1,700 assistance programs, over the course of 1 day in September 2014, more than 10,000 requests for services, including legal representation, were not met.

(6) Pro bono assistance can help fill this need by providing not only legal representation, but also access to emergency shelter, transportation, and childcare.

(7) Research and studies have demonstrated that the provision of legal assistance to victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking reduces the probability of such violence or behavior reoccurring in the future and can help survivors move forward.

(8) Legal representation increases the possibility of successfully obtaining a protective order against an attacker, which prevents further mental and physical injury to a victim and his or her family, as demonstrated by a study that found that 83 percent of victims represented by an attorney were able to obtain a protective order, whereas only 32 percent of victims without an attorney were able to do so.

(9) The American Bar Association Model Rules include commentary stating that “every lawyer, regardless of professional prominence or professional workload, has a responsibility to provide legal services to those unable to pay, and personal involvement in the problems of the disadvantaged can be one of the most rewarding experiences in the life of a lawyer”.

(10) As representatives of the Department of Justice, the duty of United States Attorneys is to present “equal and impartial justice to all its citizens”, which should include, especially, survivors of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking who might not otherwise know how to seek advice and protection.

(11) As Federal leaders who have knowledge of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking in their localities, United States Attorneys should encourage lawyers to provide pro bono resources in an effort to help victims of such violence or behavior escape the cycle of abuse.

(12) A dedicated army of pro bono attorneys focused on this mission will inspire others to devote efforts to this cause and will raise awareness of the scourge of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking throughout the country.

(13) Communities, by providing awareness of pro bono legal services and assistance to survivors of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking, will empower those survivors to move forward with their lives.

While the proposed Bill clearly is limited in how it addresses these concerns, with not even a guarantee of legal representation to all victims, it is important in that it is a bi-partisan recognition of the problem of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking, and a recognition of the role government – federal, State, and local – must take in addressing these issues.

I support these companion Bills, and indeed, would support even stronger action toward ensuring legal representation for victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking, throughout the country.

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