Bill would raise fees to help foster kids

Former Nevada Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley is promoting a bill in the Legislature to increase fees at county recorders' offices and funnel the money to legal services for abused or neglected children.

But as numerous nonprofits and agencies compete for an ever-shrinking budget pie, legislators asked proponents to explain why the cause merited special attention.

"I know you will face many programs asking for money," Nevada Supreme Court Justice Nancy Saitta said at a Wednesday committee hearing during which no action was taken. "But these will be the students you will not be paying for in the prison system."

The bill would raise a surcharge for recording a document, deed, map or survey to $3 from its present $1, and direct the additional money to provide legal services to children in the foster care system. An existing $1 surcharge directs money to a program for people formerly in foster care.

The fee increase would not apply to marriage licenses, which county recorders also process.

Half of approximately 3,000 children in the system do not have attorneys to help them navigate legal proceedings such as adoption, according to Buckley, who directs a Clark County legal services nonprofit that would gain $1.6 million if the bill passes.

"There's no urgency on behalf of these kids," the former Democratic lawmaker said. "This would result in every child being afforded an attorney."

Buckley was first elected to the Assembly in 1994, and was barred from seeking re-election by term limits in 2009.

Dashaun Jackson, a former foster youth, described sitting in a courtroom with no idea what was going on around him. He testified that parents in foster cases get public defenders but foster children are not guaranteed those services.

"The foster children are the victims, and they're treated like criminals," Jackson said. "Why do foster children get the leftovers?"

Three nonprofit organizations - Nevada Legal Services, Washoe Legal Services and Buckley's organization, the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada - would gain from the revenue.

The organizations have staff attorneys and enlist lawyers to defend foster children pro bono. Buckley said the funds would be leveraged, allowing the groups to recruit many more volunteers and ensure that more children find permanent adoptive homes. The money also could provide lawyers so children who are overmedicated can get a court review of their prescriptions.

"It would allow youth to have a voice," Jackson said. "We're helpless without someone helping us."

The measure is AB192.


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