A few representative examples of the CBF’s advocacy efforts over the years include:
The Access to Justice Act, a multifaceted initiative that the CBF worked on with the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Access to Justice and other partners, was passed in 2013 and amended in 2015. The Act advances access to justice in Illinois in three key ways:
- A pilot program to develop and support a much-needed hotline and network of legal assistance to help thousands of veterans and military families in need throughout the state;
- The Statutory Court Fee Task Force, tasked with conducting a thorough review and report on the various statutory fees and fines imposed or assessed on criminal defendants and civil litigants;
- Automatic fee waivers for low income individuals represented by legal aid or pro bono attorneys.
Civics Education Bill (Public Act 099-0434)
The Civics Education Bill strengthens civics education in Illinois and promotes greater civic learning through a required civics course for all Illinois high school students. The Illinois Civic Mission Coalition played the lead role in this legislative effort, and the CBF was one of dozens of organizations to support the bill. The bill passed the Illinois House and Senate with overwhelming bipartisan support and beginning in the Fall of 2016, a semester of hands-on civics education will be part of the required core curriculum for high school graduation in Illinois.
The Illinois Equal Justice Act (30 ILCS 765/1)
State government has an integral role to play in ensuring access to justice, and the primary vehicle for the state to fulfill this responsibility is the Illinois Equal Justice Foundation (IEJF). The CBA and CBF have been a principal force in these advocacy efforts from the start, playing a lead role in passing the Illinois Equal Justice Act in 1999 and in the subsequent effort to secure funding for IEJF.
The Illinois Equal Justice Act created the IEJF, a statewide foundation that distributes funds for legal information centers, regional legal services hotlines, alternate dispute resolution centers, self help desks and legal aid providers.
The CBA and CBF are also founding partners in the Equal Justice Illinois Campaign, a broad-based effort to educate our elected officials about the importance of adequately funding IEJF.
Funding from Residual Funds in Class Action Cases (735 ILCS 5/2-807)
The Chicago Bar Foundation played the lead role in advocacy efforts that resulted in the development and passage of a new law that ensures that, to the extent practicable, residual funds in class action cases in the Illinois courts are distributed to organizations that improve access to justice for low-income Illinois residents. Examples of the successful projects that have been recently funded through residual fund distributions include a number of court-based help desks that provide advice and limited legal assistance to unrepresented litigants and several innovative court-based pro bono projects.
The College Cost Reduction and Access Act of 2007 (20 U.S.C. 1001 et seq)
The CBA and CBF partnered with the American Bar Association, Equal Justice Works, and a number of other organizations from around the country in a successful multi-year advocacy effort that led to the passage of the College Cost Reduction and Access Act of 2007 (CCRAA). The CCRAA does two important things to help legal aid and public services lawyers: (1) it significantly lowers monthly student loan payments by creating an income-based repayment plan option and (2) it provides loan forgiveness for those who make longer-term commitments to these careers by canceling their remaining federal educational debt after ten years of income-based repayment. This program makes it significantly easier for newer lawyers, and particularly future law school graduates, to pursue careers in legal aid and public service.