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The Public Servant
The newsletter of the ISBA’s Standing Committee on Government Lawyers

June 2005, vol. 6, no. 4

Government lawyers loan forgiveness legislation struggles to find support

The current version of the Prosecutors and Defenders Incentive Act, a government lawyer loan forgiveness bill, was introduced in the 109th session of the U.S. Congress by Representative David Scott of Georgia. The bill has 16 co-sponsors, but currently none from Illinois. On February 9, 2005, the bill was referred to the House Subcommittee on 21st Century Competitiveness. Paul Logli, State's Attorney of Winnebago County and President-Elect of the National District Attorney's Association (NDAA), was recently interviewed about the status of the bill and his report indicates that the prospects for the bill's passage this session are gloomy. The NDAA is the main proponent of the bill.

Logli reports that the bill is not currently under serious consideration in the House. Moreover, although Illinois Senator Richard Durbin, the bill's sponsor in prior years (along with Sen. Michael DeWine of Ohio), has indicated that he will introduce the bill again this session, it appears that the bill will have a difficult time getting out of the Senate Judiciary Committee, where members have expressed reservations on the current provisions and structure of the bill. The major objection to or concern with the bill is that the NDAA has not been able to calculate a credible estimate of its cost. Another reservation expressed is that the legislative proposal provides the same benefits to government lawyers regardless of how diligent they may have been in trying to pay off their student loans, or who borrowed irresponsibly or excessively in order to get through school. Another objection is that the bill provides benefits only to government lawyers and ignores the needs of those in other public service fields (such as teachers and nurses, and especially those who work in low-paying jobs in poverty-stricken areas of the country). Logli notes, however, that many federal agencies already have loan forgiveness programs.

Logli also reports that other organizations are interested in or considering lending their support to the bill. Other supporters include the American Bar Association, which has a government and public sector lawyers division, and a number of criminal defense bar associations. The NDAA is also currently reviewing its lobbying activities. It may hire a full-time staff person to conduct its lobbying, rather than contracting for this service. NDAA may also attempt to develop prosecutor and public defender caucuses in the House and Senate. It may amend the bill to allow government lawyers to take a tax credit on their loan payments, rather than for providing loan forgiveness outright. The problem with this approach, notes Logli, is that it requires that a major tax bill be introduced. Currently, there is no such bill.

Despite these difficulties, the commitment of the NDAA to the legislation remains firm. The Committee on Government Lawyers will keep its constituency informed of any further developments.