AFA Update- Thursday, January 2015: Judicial Branch, Indigent Legal Services and Professional & Financial Regulation

This afternoon AFA was joined by Chief Justice Leigh Sauffley to present an overview of the Judicial branch, the Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services (MECILS) and Commissioner Anne Head of the Department of Professional and Financial Regulation (PFR).

You can listen to today’s entire meeting here.

Judicial branch

Chief Justice Sauffley shared a presentation that began by outlining the real estate and human resources assets of the Judiciary. She highlighted the court’s initiative to move to a Unified Criminal Docket (UCD) in order to reduce delays and inefficiencies surrounding criminal cases.

Sauffley discussed a plan for the Business and Consumer Docket (BCD) intended to bolster their numbers and decrease wait times for trials. Speaker John Richardson provided $1M of ongoing funding to the Judiciary for this very purpose in 2006.

Rep. Nutting asks the CJ to speak to the alarming increase in the pretrial inmates (50% up to over 70%) housed at county jails and delays in court. Cautiously, due to pending legal action before the Supreme Judicial Court on which she sits, Sauffley pointed to what she calls Maine’s antiquated bail system among other complex factors. Chief among national factors governing pretrial detention are socioeconomic factors. Those with fewer resources tend to be held longer before trials than those with more resources for a given identical basket of charges.

The court faces financial challenges that are not within their control as well. Child Protective cases have doubled since FY11. The incidence of cases requiring mental health evaluations had also increased sharply.

The Governor’s budget proposes to equalize the mileage reimbursement for jurors with that paid by state agencies. The budget also envisions increasing juror per diem reimbursement by 50% to $15.

Chief Justice Sauffley’s presentation is here.

Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services (MECILS)

Steve Carey, Chair and John Pelletier, Executive Director, of MECILS described their statutory charge to provide constitutionally required legal representation to those deemed unable to provide it themselves.

Mr. Pelletier provided an Agency overview and a Budget overview.

Current rate of reimbursement to counsel: $55/hr

The commission also provides reimbursement to private investigators and expert witnesses necessary to provides adequate representation.

Financial screeners evaluate a person’s eligibility for counsel. Once the court makes a final determination about that eligibility and the ability of an individual to provide for a portion of their own defense. Last year the commission collected $654,406 in payments from those deemed able to contribute.

The Commission’s funding requests, not included by the Governor in his budget, were also shared with the AFA committee. For FY15 the commission request $1.7M. Factors are an increase in voucher (reimbursement) requests, an increase in costs per voucher, due to a requested increase in reimbursement from $50/hr to $55/hr. The documents provided by Mr. Pelletier displays this information in a number of ways including a breakdown by specific crimes.

The request for the upcoming biennium is a total of $18M, $7.2M for projected cost increase and $10.8M for increased reimbursement for counsel.  The commission asks for an increase to $70/hr in FY16 (an increase of 27%) and $75/hr in FY17.

Department of Professional and Financial Regulation (PFR)

Anne Head, Commissioner of PFR spoke about her department’s various revenue streams and areas of oversight. PFR receives little to no General Fund (GF) support.

Commissioner Head was careful to point out that the Office of Securities provides $25M annually to the GF from the registration of a galaxy of securities and products. The registration of individuals provides the operating revenue for the office.

The Bureau of Financial institutions oversees 42 state chartered institutions.

The Bureau of Consumer Credit oversees nonbank transactions. In response to a request for more information from Rep. Jorgensen Commissioner Head explained that most complaints are delivered online and that there is an enormous volume of complaints to address. They deal with all manner of consumer concerns.

The Bureau of Insurance regulates insurance posits and receives the bulk of its funding from out-of-state insurance producer registration fees.

The Office of Professional and Occupational Regulation oversees the 37 separate and independent regulatory boards safeguarding Maine consumers.

PFR seeks to maintain a “Rainy Day” Fund for each of its accounts. Despite continued pleas by the Legislature that PFR adjust its fee structures to stop amassing surplus funds PFR continues to accrue balances and be reluctant to lower fees charged to Maine people. The Legislature frequently lapses a portion of these surplus balances to the GF. Commissioner Head expressed frustration with the Rule making process and its impact on the nimbleness of adjusting fees.

Sen Katz asked the Commissioner to provide information about what appropriate reserves look like for each fund.

If you would like a copy of or to look at Commissioner Head’s voluminous background materials please let me know.

Schedule

Tuesday afternoon, January 27, AFA will hold a confirmation hearing for Acting Commissioner Richard Rosen of the Department of Administrative and Financial Services (DAFS) and his nomination by the Governor as permanent Commissioner. Additionally Rosen will provide an organizational overview of DAFS.

The “Conformity” bill, LD 138, will have a public hearing with AFA and Taxation on Thursday, January 29 at 2:30 pm.

The full schedule is here.

You may listen live through the Legislature’s website.

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