Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s proposal to establish a clearinghouse to connect current and former service members in Washington state to pro bono legal service providers passed the Senate today in an overwhelming, bipartisan 95-0 vote. House Bill 1055is sponsored by Rep. Christine Kilduff, D–University Place. Sen. Steve O’Ban, R–Pierce County, is the prime sponsor of its companion, Senate Bill 5021.
“The men and women who serve in our military sometimes face unique legal challenges, and need specialized help in resolving them,” Ferguson said. “This legislation creates a framework to connect service members with the qualified legal assistance they need and deserve.”
The legislation creates an Office of Military and Veteran Legal Assistance in the Attorney General’s Office, serving as a one-stop shop for legal assistance and pro bono services provided by community organizations and private attorneys.
Ferguson’s proposal is patterned after a successful model in Nevada that helped address more than 200 legal matters in its first year.
The legislation allows the Attorney General to actively recruit and train volunteer attorneys to participate in pro bono programs that offer targeted services to military service members and veterans.
Both sponsors represent the 28th District, which includes Joint Base Lewis-McChord and surrounding communities.
“From deployment to retirement, military families can face a range of legal challenges,” Kilduff said. “A soldier deploying to another continent can’t easily fight a legal battle on the home front from halfway around the world nor can a limited-income retiree applying for VA benefits. By connecting military families with free legal services we help fill an existing gap in our civil legal needs system and honor the extraordinary sacrifices they make for our country every day.”
“Our military families don’t make a lot of money but serve to protect us all,” O’Ban said. “These free legal services for them can be a huge benefit for families and a big reduction in stress.”
The legislation had broad support from the Department of Defense and the Washington Veteran Bar Association.
“The Department of Defense appreciates the actions taken by the Washington State Attorney General, Bob Ferguson, and members of the state legislature, most especially Representative Christine Kilduff and Senator Steve O’Ban, in improving service member and family access to pro bono legal assistance,” said Mark San Souci, Northwest Regional State Liaison for the U.S. Department of Defense.
“We are really thrilled with the passage of this legislation,” said John Tymczyszyn, Legislative Director of the Washington State Veterans Bar Association. “The attorneys, judges and law students of the Washington State Veterans Bar Association stand with the Attorney General and are ready to volunteer our time and expertise to make this legislation a reality.”
Standing up for Washington’s veterans and military families is a priority for Ferguson. Since taking office in 2013, he has released a legal resource guide to help educate veterans and military service members about their rights, requested legislation to improve their legal protections, and cracked down on unfair and deceptive schemes targeting veterans and military families.