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State’s lawyers have a long list of initiatives at Legislature this year

Both the Minnesota State Bar Association and Legal Aid are pushing their legislative agendas at the Capitol. Issues range from new consumer protection laws to changes in procedure for debt collection lawsuits.

The Minnesota Legislature is less than three months from the session’s end, so everyone seeking to pass legislation is scrambling. In particular, the Minnesota State Bar Association is seeking action on the items on its legislative agenda, and Legal Aid is pushing for new consumer protection laws.

The MSBA legislative agenda
The MSBA has stepped up its activity at the Legislature this year, and also its visibility. Probably highest on its agenda is obtaining appropriate funding for the courts, which are staggering under funding cuts to already-insufficient budgets. To compensate, filing fees are up, and so are caseloads for public defenders (PDF). Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Eric Magnuson already has pointed out that the court cannot continue to handle some kinds of cases if funding shortages continue.

In addition to increased funding, MSBA sections are supporting changes to laws governing parental presumptions where medical reproductive technology is used, tax audits and expert assessors in tax court, and more.

The Legal Aid legislative agenda
The Mid-Minnesota Legal Assistance Legislative Services Advocacy Project is pursuing a bill to regulate debt buyer lawsuits. Debt collection constitutes a large proportion of the lawsuits filed every month in Minnesota courts. Many collection lawsuits are filed by debt buyers who may not have the means to win their lawsuits, but they win anyway, because of the way Minnesota’s procedural rules work (PDF).

The bill would require debt buyers to present their evidence at the start of a lawsuit, so that the courts can determine whether each case has merit, instead of merely rubber-stamping the debt buyer’s application for default judgment. It would give consumers fair notice of the debt buyer’s claims before the debt buyer starts garnishing their bank accounts or wages, so they can seek help or make an intelligent decision not to defend the lawsuit.

The advocacy project also is looking to close a loophole that allows payday lenders to charge interest rates roughly double the amount permitted under current payday lending regulations (link to report), because payday lenders can easily masquerade as an “industrial loan & thrift.” It hopes to end a foreclosure redemption scam and also to establish a task force to follow up the work and report of the Legislative Commission to End Poverty by 2020.