As a regular reader pointed out, the U.S. House has passed a bill to create a Loan Repayment Assistance Program (LRAP) to help public defenders and prosecutors pay down their student loan bills. As the TaxProf Blog notes, the bill would:
- Establish a program of student loan repayment for borrowers who agree to remain employed, for at least three years, as State or local criminal prosecutors or as State, local or Federal public defenders in criminal cases.
- Allow eligible attorneys to receive student loan debt repayments of up to $10,000 per year, with a maximum aggregate over time of $60,000
The House bill is H.R. 916 (PDF), and you can track it on GovTrack. It sounds excellent, but now the Senate needs to pass something like this to take it the next step toward reality. The Senate version is S. 442, which appears to be waiting for debate. Contact your senator and tell him or her how important this bill could be to improving our criminal justice system. If you’re a Montana resident, here’s the info you need:
- Baucus, Max- (D – MT)
511 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington, DC 20510
- Tester, Jon- (D – MT)
204 Russell Senate Office Building, Washington, DC 20510
Need something to tell your senator? Take inspiration from Richard Goemann, director of defender legal services for the National Legal Aid and Defender Association, who said:
“Taxpayers have an interest in a fair and reliable criminal justice system,” Goemann said. “Without experienced, talented public defenders and prosecutors, the criminal justice system does not work.”
Or listen to Martin S. Pinales, President of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, who said:
“Because of high student debt and low pay, public defenders’ offices have a difficult time attracting and keeping qualified attorneys. . . . The constant influx of new, inexperienced attorneys undermines the reliability, fairness, and efficiency of the criminal justice system. The John R. Justice Prosecutors and Defenders Incentive Act would slow down the revolving door and improve the quality of justice for all Americans.”
Or, from the other side, we have Mathias H. Heck, Jr., President of the National District Attorneys Association, who said:
“The ‘John R. Justice Prosecutors and Public Defenders Incentive Act’ is crucial to public safety. . . . This important legislation will ensure that prosecutor offices across this country are able to recruit the best and brightest attorneys and are able to retain those qualified and experienced prosecutors in their offices.”
If there’s anything on which criminal lawyers can agree, it’s that most all of us could have better lives and less stress if we didn’t have to worry so much about student loan bills. Please, write your senator and help get this legislation passed!
For more on this legislation, see:
- NPR’s coverage, including vignettes of public defenders and prosecutors trying to make it w/out such assistance.
- The comments to the idea of a federal LRAP on the Wall Street Journal‘s Law Blog — an interesting mix of support for the idea and condemnation for the idea of giving privileged lawyers any more breaks.
- The ABA Op-Ed in support of the legislation.