The Alaska Department of Law announced Wednesday that Gov. Mike Dunleavy will not veto state funding for the Alaska Legal Services Corp., reversing yet another position he held as little as six weeks ago. The department said the money comes with an agreement that it will be used to represent domestic violence and sexual assault victims in civil cases.
ALSC director Nikole Nelson said the law firm will reserve the state funding — which accounts for about 15% of its budget — for such cases. Dunleavy had previously vetoed $759,000 to the agency, its entire state appropriation.
“I would say that this is an increased focus (on domestic violence and sexual assault)," she said.
The Alaska Constitution requires a state-appointed lawyer for poor Alaskans who cannot afford representation in a criminal case, but there is no such requirement for civil lawsuits. The nonprofit Legal Services Corp. was established in 1967 to provide civil attorneys to Alaskans near or below the poverty line.
Nelson said that because of a lack of funding, the firm has not been able to meet demand and last year had to turn away one person for every person it was able to help.
“There has never been a shortage of need for victims of domestic violence,” she said.
Cases involving domestic violence represent a fraction of ALSC’s work; the organization also assists in child support cases, renter-landlord disputes and issues involving seniors or veterans, to name certain examples. Nelson said she was unable to say how much of that work will have to stop in order to reserve all state funding for domestic violence issues.
“I can’t tell you exactly what exactly will get pushed aside,” she said.
Last year, the Alaska Legislature approved (and then-Gov. Bill Walker) signed a measure reserving 10% of the revenue from the state’s court system filing fees for the corporation. Dunleavy vetoed that annual transfer in June, but the Legislature sought to restore it, and the governor is now expected to agree. That transfer accounts for about one-third of the state’s contribution; the rest will come from the state’s general fund, which is filled by taxes and the annual transfer from the Alaska Permanent Fund.
Wednesday’s announcement is in line with similar statements from the governor earlier this week. On Tuesday, he said he would not veto as much from the University of Alaska budget as previously planned. He has also announced similar reversals for early education and senior benefits.
The moves have been announced amid a campaign to recall the governor from office and ahead of the governor’s final decisions on a piece of operating budget legislation, House Bill 2001. That legislation seeks to reverse most of Dunleavy’s June 28 decision to veto more than $400 million from the state’s operating and mental health budgets.
The governor’s office said on social media Wednesday that Dunleavy is expected to finalize the operating budget later this week, presumably with extensive vetoes of other program funding the Legislature restored after his June vetoes. “As previously stated, (Dunleavy) considers FY20 budget largely settled. Only a few budget restorations remain unannounced,” the governor’s office said in a Twitter post.