The New York State Senate today unanimously passed a statewide public defense bill that would fundamentally reform public defense services. The New York Civil Liberties Union is among groups that have advocated for passage of the bill. It now goes to the Assembly where it is expected to pass.

“This bill represents a commitment by the state to uphold the constitutional right to counsel for those who cannot afford to hire a lawyer,” said Robert Perry, legislative director at the NYCLU. “The legislation will make the criminal justice fairer, and more efficient. We expect that there will be swift action on the bill in the Assembly, and that the governor will sign it into law.”

The bill, sponsored by Senator John DeFrancisco, will transfer the responsibility for funding public defense from the counties to the state over a seven-year period. It will authorize the state Office of Indigent Legal Services to establish and uphold standards to ensure that poor people accused of crimes receive effective legal representation when they cannot afford a private attorney. Assembly Member Pat Fahy is the sponsor of the companion bill introduced in the Assembly.

This legislation is a response to a 2014 settlement of litigation between the NYCLU and New York State. It requires the state to improve public defense services in five counties named in the lawsuit Hurrell-Harring v. State of New York. The lawsuit demonstrated that the failure to provide public defense is widespread in New York; if passed, this bill will extend public defense reforms to all counties in the state.