Brennan Center Access to Justice Updates
From the Brennan Center for Justice:
1. U.S. Senate Bill Would Authorize Attorney General to Award Grants to State Courts to Improve Development and Implementation of Interpreter Programs Senators Herb Kohl (D-WI), Richard Durbin (D-IL), and Edward Kennedy (D-MA) recently introduced a bill, the State Court Interpreter Grant Program Act, that would provide for the Attorney General to award grants to state courts to improve, develop, and implement interpreter programs. The rationale for filing the bill includes that equal justice requires that all participants, regardless of their English proficiency, are able to understand courtroom proceedings. Reasons for introducing the bill also include the increasing percent of the U.S. population that speaks a language other than English at home and that Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 necessitates that all recipients of federal financial assistance must take reasonable steps to accommodate persons with limited English proficiency. The bill recommends providing $15 million annually to state courts to develop and implement court interpreter programs as well as share best practices between states. The bill would also allocate $500,000 of the appropriated funding for technical assistance to support the grantees. Similar legislative language was included in the comprehensive immigration reform bill (H.R. 1645) that was introduced on March 22, 2007 in the House of Representatives. The Senate bill has been referred to the Committee on the Judiciary for next steps. To read a copy of the bill, click here. Based on original reporting by Brennan Center staff.
2. Elderly and Disabled Low-Income New Yorkers Sue City for Better Protective Services
Low-income, elderly, and disabled New York City residents could benefit from a recent class action lawsuit filed by two women who claim that the City’s Adult Protective Services (APS), administered by the Human Resources Administration (HRA), has not complied with state and federal laws. The New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG) represents the plaintiffs in the suit, Belovic v. Doar, which was filed on April 10, 2007 in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. Madelaine Andrews, a plaintiff in the case who, because she is unable to walk, cannot leave her apartment, says, “APS promised me they would help me find a new place to live and then completely abandoned me. As a result, I wasn’t able to leave my house for over six months, until I had a heart attack and an ambulance came to take me away.” The suit claims that, among other concerns, the failures of APS mean that elderly New Yorkers and people with disabilities are unnecessarily put in nursing homes, do not receive necessary medical care, and sometimes go without food. NYLAG claims that HRA’s inadequate administration of APS violates the Americans with Disabilities Act, New York Social Services Law, and the federal and state constitutions. Jane Greengold Stevens, a NYLAG attorney working on the case, says, “In the long run, we are looking for institutional reform of the agency. They are totally overwhelmed. They are very understaffed. Their staff has caseloads that are much too high. They are not trained well.” News Release, New York City’s Most Vulnerable Left Unprotected; NYLAG Files Federal Class Action Challenging Unlawful Failure to Protect Mentally and Physically Disabled Adults From Harm, PR Newswire US, April 10, 2007; Lawsuit Claims NYC Agency Fails to Care for Disabled Adults, The Associated Press, April 12, 2007.
3. Fair-Housing Discrimination Complaints at All-Time High Nationwide; Hawaii Sees Especially Sharp Increase, But Advocates Say Discrimination Still Underreported
A record 10,328 housing discrimination complaints were filed nationally last year, according to an annual fair housing report released by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) on April 3, 2007. Among the states with sharp increases in discrimination complaints was Hawaii, which saw a 14 percent increase over the number of complaints filed in 2005. Officials and housing advocates, however, warn that the complaint tally both nationally and in Hawaii underestimates the actual occurrence of housing discrimination. According to Jelani Madaraka, a civil rights specialist at HUD’s Honolulu office, many people are reluctant to file complaints due to cultural and language barriers. Other advocates suggest that Hawaiian residents do not file complaints due to fear of retribution, lack of time to follow through with their claim, and concern that their case may lack merit. In Hawaii, 26 percent of the complaints were based on disability and 20 percent were based on ancestry or national origin. In 2006, the LSC-funded Legal Aid Society of Hawaii’s fair-housing enforcement program conducted a survey of 101 people who stated they were victims of housing discrimination, but only a handful of those people actually filed complaints with the state or sought help from Legal Aid. To read a copy of the Annual Fair Housing Report, click here. Mary Vorsino, Fair-Housing Complaints Rise, Honolulu Advertiser (Hawaii), April 4, 2007; Housing Discrimination Complaints at an All-Time High, States News Service (Washington, D.C.), April 3, 2007.