ABA House meets Feb. 17 with access to justice efforts, voting rights topping the agenda

The American Bar Association House of Delegates meets later this month in Austin, Texas, with a full slate of resolutions, including a proposal to encourage state lawyer-licensing agencies to experiment with model rules to expand access to justice efforts.

The HOD, as the ABA policy-making body is known, meets Feb. 17 at the JW Marriott Austin on the final day of the 2020 ABA Midyear Meeting, which begins Feb. 13. The House consists of 596 delegates from state, local and specialty bar associations and meets twice a year at the ABA Midyear and Annual meetings.

The Feb. 17 agenda includes more than 30 proposals, including resolutions related to voting registration and accessibility, curbing gun violence and lessening the burden for bond after a conviction and before sentencing on criminal charges.

Resolution 115, proposed by the ABA Center for Innovation and supported by four standing committees of the ABA Center for Professional Responsibility, calls for state regulators and bar associations to continue to explore regulatory innovations that have the potential to improve the accessibility, affordability and quality of civil legal services. At least six states have proposed - or adopted - substantial regulatory changes that could loosen rules and more are considering doing the same.

The resolution does not point to any single effort as a panacea. Rather, it urges similar entities to continue these efforts with the goal of providing more affordable legal services while maintaining protections for clients. The resolution also encourages state licensing bodies and others to collect and assess data regarding regulatory changes and recommends that the ABA should assess these results in shaping future changes to ABA model rules and policies.

Proponents of these changes say that they will lead to more accessibility, affordability and quality of civil legal services for all Americans. Opponents fear that some of the changes would allow nonlawyers to take advantage of vulnerable populations needing legal representation.

Of the three voter-related measures, Resolution 108 urges governmental bodies to enact legislation that would allow eligible youth between 16 and 18 to preregister to vote and urges governments to automatically add preregistered teens to the voter rolls when they reach the legal voting age. Other voting proposals - Resolution 112 and Resolution 114 - ask governments to remove voting barriers for Native Americans and Alaska Natives and change residency requirements to make it easier for the homeless to vote.

The gun safety resolutions seek to ban "ghost guns," which are firearms made by individuals, without serial numbers or other identifying markings (107A); toughen gun permitting laws (107B); and raise awareness and regulations for safe storage of firearms (107C).

Other noteworthy proposals include:

- Resolution 110, which urges governments to provide courts with discretion to allow defendants to remain on bond pending sentencing following a guilty plea or conviction if the court finds that the defendant is not likely to flee or pose a danger.

- Resolution 103D, which seeks to address conflicting cannabis laws related to the financial industry. It specifically asks Congress to enact legislation to clarify and ensure that it shall not constitute a federal crime for banking and financial institutions to provide services to businesses and individuals, including attorneys, who receive compensation from the sale of state-legalized cannabis or who provide services to cannabis-related legitimate businesses.

- Resolution 200, which are requests from the California Lawyers Association and the North Carolina Bar Association, both voluntary bar groups, for primary state bar association designation and acquisition of additional delegate seats in the House from other bars in that state.

Published: Wed, Feb 05, 2020