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Published on Saturday, January 20, 2018

Hearing scheduled for public defense funding bill

AWC and the Washington State Association of Counties have partnered to introduce a bill that puts the responsibility of public defense funding back on the state. HB 2687, sponsored by Rep. Noel Frame (D-Seattle), requires the state to increase public defense services funding by ten percent every year, with full funding provided by 2028. Counties and cities would be required to apply annually for reimbursement of public defense services funds from the Office of Public Defense. AWC will be testifying in support of the bill in the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday January 24 at 8 am.

Recent Washington court cases highlight that providing adequate representation under demanding caseloads is a significant financial challenge for local governments. In 1963 the U.S. Supreme Court held in Gideon v. Wainwright that the provision of a public defender for indigent people is a state obligation under the Fourteenth Amendment. Yet the state contributed only a small percent last year to fund public defenders in Washington. And while the Supreme Court has not directly considered whether it is unconstitutional for a state to delegate its constitutional responsibility to local government, the state must still guarantee that local governments are not only capable of providing adequate representation, but that they are in fact doing so.