Position Statement – 2023
Governor Hochul’s Budget Proposal
NY State Fiscal Year 2024 – Executive Budget Proposal
The Women’s Bar Association of the State of New York (“WBASNY”) is an organization comprised of nearly 4,000 attorneys, including judges, from across the state in private practice, government, academia, and the courts. While WBASNY members come from varied backgrounds, all are dedicated to the advancement of women in law and society. WBASNY members and leadership have reviewed the Executive Budget Proposal for State Fiscal Year 2024, and truly appreciate the Governor’s shared objective of addressing the issues women face within society. More specifically, WBASNY has found and highlighted various sections that we believe would impact lawyers, women, and children. Our positions and discussion on these sections are addressed below:
Public Protection and General Government Article VII Legislation
Part P – 18-b Assigned Counsel Rates
WBASNY applauds the Governor’s inclusion of assigned counsel funding reform in the 2024 Executive Budget. WBASNY unequivocally supports a much-needed increase in assigned counsel compensation. However, the language as proposed, places certain fiscal restrictions on the assigned counsel program which we believe will lead to the failure of the program.
Specifically, WBASNY agrees that both the state-wide rate and cap on total compensation per case should be increased, however, WBASNY disagrees with the Governor’s proposal in regard to this issue in two key ways.
First, the proposed downstate/upstate rate and cap differences threaten to create a shortage of 18-b lawyers in counties where the compensation rate is lower. Furthermore, because both the upstate and downstate rates are below market rate, the even lower upstate rate further penalizes attorneys who choose to live in those counties. WBASNY urges the Legislature and Governor to ensure that the final rate is equal across the state. Moreover, WBASNY believes that a cost-of-living adjustment be included in the final budget language to ensure that this issue does not need to be continually addressed and ensures that our assigned-counsel pool remains adequate for the needs of the population it serves as attorneys are provided a competitive fee.
Second, it is WBASNY’s position that the proposed budget makes a serious error in stripping the Court of its discretion to exceed the cap in certain extraordinary circumstances – effectively creating a “hard cap.” At the $158 per hour rate, the $10,000 cap imposes an approximately 63- hour limit on representation. Even the most “open and shut” cases can provide unique twists and turns that could take more time as attorneys work to zealously represent their clients. This cap, for example, would be insufficient for a one-week jury trial, excluding the prep work required to reach the trial stage. Yet, with no discretion to exceed the cap there would be nothing that the Court could do. This would lead to obvious, foreseeable consequences including: (a) 18-b Counsel working for free; (b) the Court reassigning a case where counsel has already met the cap which would be a waste of resources as new counsel would need to study the file to become familiar with the case; (c) forcing ill-advised settlements; and/or (d) competent, experienced assigned counsel’s refusal to accept cases that would likely exceed the cap. With the imposition of a “hard” cap, the Governor’s proposal adversely impacts those very members of our society who are not in a position to pursue or protect their own rights. It is imperative that such individuals receive complete and competent representation for the entire case in which they are involved. Moreover, the Court hearing the case is best situated to evaluate the case and allow counsel to exceed the cap. The fair administration of justice requires that courts continue to have discretion to exceed the cap in certain circumstances.
Part U – Market-Based Interest Rate on Court Judgments
WBASNY strongly opposes the Governor’s budget proposal that provides a market-based interest rate on court judgments and accrued claims and further replaces the provision of the CPLR that provides for nine percent per annum interest on judgments for damages (except where otherwise provided by statute). The statutory rate of nine percent is a strong incentive for judgments to be paid promptly, ensuring that wronged parties are able to receive compensation in a timely fashion. Moreover, this provision would have a devastating effect on the less-monied parties in litigation, including the less-monied spouse in a matrimonial action. We believe that this proposal would unfortunately result in more harm to women and children at a higher rate than men.
Part I – Modernize Gender-Based Violence Policies and Procedures
WBASNY strongly supports the requirement that the Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence (“OPDV”) modernize New York State’s model for domestic violence policies, protocols, best practices, and procedures. It has been more than 30-years since such policies and procedures have been updated, and many reflect an outdated approach to responding to domestic violence survivors and their needs. WBASNY is pleased that the Governor agrees an updated OPDV policy should reflect an approach tailored specifically for domestic violence survivors and their needs by addressing the issue of domestic and gender-based violence.
WBASNY also supports implementation of the plan which will include providing training, technical support, and information for the implementation of county policies no later than 6 months after completion of the plan.
Education Labor and Family Assistance Article VII Legislation
Part C – Ensure Abortion Access at Public College Campuses
WBASNY strongly supports ensuring access to abortion medication and/or the referral of students to local reproductive health care providers for medication abortion services at all public colleges and universities in the State University of New York and City University of New York systems. This proposal improves reproductive health care across New York by increasing ease of access to safe and effective medication while also allowing institutions to meet their students needs in a way that best fits campus life and infrastructure.
Part U – Expand and Improve New York State’s Child Care Assistance Program
WBASNY supports efforts to make childcare assistance more accessible to parents and supports amending the Social Services Law to expand eligibility for childcare assistance to persons who are at or below 300% of the federal poverty level (currently $83,250 for a family of four) to families with incomes up to 85% of the New York State’s median income (currently $93,200 for a family of four). This increase in the maximum allowable income threshold would make an additional 113,000 children eligible for childcare assistance. This assistance will allow more people to work, look for work, attend employment training, or attend an education program with the peace of mind that their childcare is covered.
Part W – Permanently Authorize Close to Home
WBASNY supports Part W, which would permanently authorize the juvenile justice services Close to Home initiative, enacted in 2012 and extended in 2018. Keeping young offenders close to their families and communities is important in ensuring a successful reentry. Additionally, WBASNY supports utilizing and normalizing alternatives to “juvenile delinquents,” as this is a stigmatized term.
Health and Mental Hygiene Article VII Legislation
Part U – Safeguard Abortion Access through Data Privacy Protections
WBASNY strongly supports all measures that improve access to abortion services within New York State. This new law would amend the General Business Law to prevent persons or entities headquartered or incorporated in New York from sharing information regarding individuals seeking abortion care in New York State with out-of-state law enforcement agencies, whether civil or criminal. Notwithstanding the foregoing, this new law also provides for limited exceptions when a person or entity has been served with a warrant. WBASNY advocates that the exceptions for warrants be strictly construed to protect the privacy of patients treated in New York.
Part V – Implement Over the Counter Contraception Access
WBASNY supports all measures which would improve access to contraceptive services within New York State. This new law would amend the Education Law to expand access to over-the-counter contraceptives by authorizing licensed pharmacists to prescribe and order self-administered hormonal contraceptives and emergency contraceptive drug therapy in accordance with procedures or protocols approved by the State Board of Pharmacy in consultation with the Department of Health. The ability to plan and space pregnancies through the use of birth control keeps New York women healthy, and in a position to make decisions for their future. Accordingly, WBASNY strongly supports this measure.