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ND Bill Would Increase Funding for Civil Legal Assistance

Legal Services of North Dakota is a major source of legal aid for older people, veterans and Native Americans in the state. (AJEL/Pixabay)
Legal Services of North Dakota is a major source of legal aid for older people, veterans and Native Americans in the state. (AJEL/Pixabay)
March 11, 2019

BISMARCK, N.D. – North Dakota lawmakers are considering a bill that would help low-income folks who need legal assistance.

House Bill 1516 would raise funding for Legal Services of North Dakota – the go-to organization for people who can't afford an attorney in civil cases.

It would increase the Civil Legal Assistance fund cap from $650,000 to $750,000 per biennium.

The fund comes from court fees paid to file civil cases, and supports programs such as Legal Services.

State Rep. Donald Longmuir of Stanley, who introduced the bill, says Legal Services has seen greater demand but is doing more with less.

"It's hard to attract attorneys on the amounts of money that they're able to afford to pay for their staff attorneys,” Longmuir explains. “And what we looked at is, since 2009, when we've had such an oil boom out in western North Dakota, there's been a lot more demand put on Legal Services North Dakota."

Legal Services helps with a variety of issues, including disability benefits and custody cases. It's also a major source of aid for older North Dakotans, veterans and Native Americans.

HB 1516 passed the House 78-to-12 and is now in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Wade Enget, president of Legal Services' board of directors and Mountrail County State's Attorney, says funding for the group has been cut at the federal level, which makes it hard to recruit and retain new attorneys. He says this type of legal aid is important for largely rural states like North Dakota.

"One of the demographics that the State Bar Association has looked at in the last 30 years is the disappearance, if you want to say, of the small town lawyer or the rural lawyer,” Enget states. “As a part of the civil legal services with Legal Services North Dakota, we serve all of North Dakota – and that's huge."

Enget adds if Legal Services were to go away, legal assistance would be hard to find for many North Dakotans.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - ND