"Just in the past two years over 45,000 Missourians have used Legal Services..."
In the closing days of the Missouri legislative session, there's a bill that would provide some much-needed funding for the state's Legal Services and the cost would be paid for by a minimal increase in the filing fees for court cases. The bill has passed the House Judiciary committee and hopefully will not get lost in the closing hours of the session.
Literally thousands of Missourians depend on the Legal Service network to provide free legal services for the essentials of life. Southeast Missouri is home to one of the state's Legal Services offices. But the burden on the Legal Services offices is growing daily and federal funds are not able to keep ground with the demand.
Just in the past two years over 45,000 Missourians have used Legal Services for problems with their landlords failing to provide heat, hot water, electricity or working plumbing. And over 32,000 Missourians have used Legal Services for disputes over custody or visitation of children. More than that have used Legal Services for help with their children's education or special education classes. The list, unfortunately, is virtually endless.
By raising court filing fees a small amount, Legal Services can remain on solid financial footing and continue to provide the legal assistance needed throughout Missouri. State funding, in light of the tight budget this year, has all but ended.
Without the opportunities of the Legal Services, many of the poor people who use that service will tax the courts, social services and other government agencies. It seems prudent to provide funds for the services on which these residents rely. We'll pay now or we'll pay later and the cost now is minimal.
We can only hope this bill faces smooth sailing. Without these services, the day will soon come when the system is overburdened. The cost at that time to correct that problem will be far greater than this small increase in court filing fees now.