Communications and Marketing Manager
NJSBA Lobbies at ABA Day in Washington
NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—The NJSBA sent its delegation to ABA Lobby Day in Washington, DC on April 27 and 28 and met with members of the New Jersey Congressional Delegation on issues of concern to both the American and New Jersey State Bar Associations (ABA and NJSBA).
NJSBA President Edwin J. McCreedy, President-Elect Stuart A. Hoberman, First Vice President Wayne J. Positan, Second Vice President Lynn Fontaine Newsome and Immediate Past President Karol Corbin Walker participated in the Capitol Hill event along with ABA Litigation Section Chair Dennis Drasco and ABA State Delegate Thomas R. Curtin.
Following are the primary issues identified by the ABA that were discussed with Congressional leaders:
Legal Services Corporation Appropriations
The American Bar Association and the NJSBA support adequate Legal Services Corporation funding.
President Bush's FY 2006 budget request submitted to Congress on Feb. 8, 2005 included a five percent reduction in funding for the Legal Services Corporation, from the FY 2005 appropriation of $335.3 million to $318,250,000.
Historically, funding for Legal Services of New Jersey (LSNJ) has come from three primary sources: the state of New Jersey (37 percent), IOLTA (38 percent), and the federal government (15 percent) with a residual amount being provided through either county or private resources.
In March 2005, McCreedy testified before the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee and the Assembly Budget Committee and advocated maintaining funding for LSNJ in the 2006 FY budget at the current level of $16.4 million and urged fully funding the governor’s appropriation recommendations of $554 million for the judiciary and $90.7 million for the public defender.
Medical Liability Legislation
The ABA generally opposes preemption of the state tort laws by enactment of federal legislation in the area of medical professional liability.
In the 109th Congress, H.R. 534 was introduced on Feb. 2, 2005 and S. 354 on Feb. 10, 2005. This legislation would, among other things, impose a cap of $250,000 on noneconomic damages, cap punitive damages, eliminate joint liability on noneconomic damages, impose a federal statute of limitations, and cap the damages that can be awarded in suits brought against pharmaceutical companies. Both the American Bar Association and the NJSBA oppose these bills.
Information released by the Division of Consumer Affairs’ Department of Law and Public Safety shows a steady decline in medical malpractice payouts and cases. Total payouts in settled cases dropped from $213 million in 2001 to $163 million in 2003.
Student Loan Forgiveness and Repayment Assistance
The ABA supports the amendment of Section 125 of the Internal Revenue Code to allow the pre-tax payment of student loans through employee benefit plans.
On March 15, 2005, Rep. Robert E. Andrews (D-NJ) introduced H.R. 1293 that proposes various amendments to the Higher Education Act including a change to the Income Contingent Repayment Option that would provide forgiveness after 15 years for eight years service in qualifying public interest positions.
In New Jersey, regarding student loan forgiveness generally, S-2334 / A-3809 the "Social Services Student Loan Redemption Program Act" is currently pending in the state Legislature. The bill establishes a program to provide loan redemption to finance the undergraduate study of program participants in exchange for full-time employment as a direct care professional at a qualified facility after completing an approved course of study at a four-year institution of higher education.
In addition, NJSBA representatives raised the following important issues in their meetings with members of Congress, which the ABA has identified as general priorities:
Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act
Both the ABA and the NJSBA oppose the “Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act,” H.R. 4571. The ABA believes that primary regulation and oversight of the legal profession should continue to be vested in the highest court of the state in which the attorney is licensed.
The NJSBA echoes the objections of the American Bar Association that this legislation would ignore the current statutory rule making process, bypassing both the Judicial Conference of the United States and the United States Supreme Court.
The ABA opposes proposed legislation imposing new liability and regulations on bankruptcy debtor attorneys.
Both the ABA and NJSBA oppose S. 256, the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005, which recently was passed by Congress and sent to the president. Though the president signed S. 256 on April 20, the ABA will nevertheless continue to work with House and Senate Judiciary Committee leaders in an effort to address the attorney liability provisions contained in S. 256 before the legislation becomes effective.
S. 256 increases the liability and administrative burdens of bankruptcy attorneys under the Bankruptcy Code.
The New Jersey State Bar Association also supports S. 314, the Fairness in Bankruptcy Litigation Act of 2005. This legislation is designed to curb forum shopping in bankruptcy cases.
Medicare Secondary Payer Act
Recently, the Medicare Secondary Payer Act has been interpreted by Medicare to assert the right to review and challenge any and all settlements of workers’ compensation benefit claims. In New Jersey this has led to thousands of workers’ compensation cases delayed indefinitely, depriving the litigants of their rightful settlement and closure to these cases.
The NJSBA supports an ABA resolution urging Congress to enact legislation to amend the Medicare Secondary Payer Act to improve the disposition and settlement of workers’ compensation claims caused by the Medicare set-aside process. At the behest of the NJSBA, Senators Jon S. Corzine and Frank R. Lautenberg wrote to the administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to request the administrator review the NJSBA’s concerns. Previously, representatives of the NJSBA’s Workers' Compensation Section met with the following members of Congress or their staff: Senator Frank R. Lautenberg, Rep. Rush Holt, Rep. Scott Garrett and Rep. Donald M. Payne.
Independence of the Judiciary
The ABA opposes legislative initiatives that erode the judicial process or infringe upon the separation of powers between Congress and the courts. The ABA supports the prompt filling of judicial vacancies and urges Congress to adequately fund the federal courts and increase judicial pay as a means of protecting judicial independence. This mirrors the NJSBA’s position on these issues.
Junk Fax Prevention Act
The ABA supports S. 714, the “Junk Fax Prevention Act of 2005.” The NJSBA has adopted the position of the ABA on the bill and has previously lobbied members of the New Jersey Congressional Delegation in support of the Junk Fax Prevention Act to protect the ability of the NJSBA to communicate with members and nonmembers. The bill would preserve the ability of associations and businesses to fax important information to their members and customers under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (“TCPA”). In particular, the ABA and NJSBA support those key provisions of the bill that would reverse harmful new Federal Communication Commission rules eliminating the so-called “established business relationship” exception to the TCPA’s general prohibition against unsolicited facsimile advertisements. These new FCC rules are scheduled to take effect on July 1, 2005.
The New Jersey State Bar Association, incorporated in 1899, is dedicated to the continuing education of lawyers and the public, to reforming and improving the legal system and to aiding in the administration of justice.
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