A legislative committee has voted down a bill that aimed to help parents navigate their legal rights while under investigation by child protective services.

The Judiciary Committee voted unanimously Wednesday against the bill, which called for a 30-family pilot program in central Maine that would connect attorneys to parents being investigated by child protective services.

State law currently requires that these parents receive counsel after child protective workers file a petition with the court for a child’s removal. By then, some advocates say, the stakes are already high and children have already sustained trauma from separation.

Committee members said they could not support the legislation out of concerns that the agency tasked with overseeing the project, the Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services, does not have the appropriate funding or staffing.

“I think we all wish MCILS were in a different place right now, so that we could enthusiastically embrace it,” committee co-Chair Sen. Anne Carney, D-Cape Elizabeth, told the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Holly Stover, D-Boothbay.

Stover said she understood, but that it was still a “very worthy idea.”


The commission is a quasi-state agency overseeing the constitutionally mandated legal representation of indigent Mainers. Working mostly with private attorneys who are reimbursed by the state, the commission offers representation to criminal defendants, parents in child protective cases, juveniles and people facing involuntary psychiatric commitment. Its leaders have spent the last few legislative sessions advocating for higher pay and more public defenders, pointing to a plummeting roster of attorneys at their disposal and a nearly insurmountable number of clients resulting from a backlog in Maine courts.

Lawmakers recently agreed to temporarily boost the reimbursement rate for participating lawyers from $80 an hour to $150 an hour. Gov. Janet Mills, who has been reluctant to support across-the-board increases, included $17 million dollars for some raises and 10 new public defenders in her budget proposal for the next two fiscal years.

But the Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services has said it still needs more and that the need outweighs even these new potential resources. The commission’s own budget proposal requests more than $60 million to pay for four physical public defense offices and reimbursement increases for the privately contracted attorneys.

The legal services commission did not take a position for or against the bill. “Staff support its goals, but had concerns about implementation at current staffing and funding levels,” Executive Director Justin Andrus said in an email Thursday.

The Judiciary Committee held a public hearing on the legislation on April 10. Advocates of domestic violence survivors shared their support, saying the bill offered an opportunity for a more case-by-case approach to the complicated struggles parent victims face when trying to leave an abusive partner.

Attorneys in the pilot would help parents beyond providing legal advice regarding an investigation, supporters said. They could also help families navigate legal resources to combat housing insecurity and public assistance.


The proposal called on MCILS to set up a help line that would connect families from all over the state to resources, and help identify low-income parents in Androscoggin, Franklin and Oxford counties who were eligible to participate in the pilot.

The pilot proposal was the result of a report authored last year by a committee of lawmakers, advocates and other stakeholders, including staff from the legal services commission and representatives from the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees child protective investigations.

The group spent a lot of time discussing potential funding streams, including federal programs to reimburse some of what the state spends on legal representation for parents in cases where a child may enter foster care.

The Judiciary Committee also voted against advancing a bill from the chair of the Health and Human Services Committee, which called for the removal of a child from a home where there’s an adult who has been convicted of a violent crime. The bill was discussed at the same April 10 public hearing.

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