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SCAS Sends Bill To State Senate

By Jal D. Mehta

The Small Claims Advisory Service (SCAS) presented testimony to the Joint Judiciary Committee of the Massachusetts General Court yesterday of a bill they helped write, designed to facilitate collections procedures in small claims courts.

Senate bill 767 (S. 767)--co-sponsored by State Sen. Cheryl Jacques (D-Needham) and State Rep. Paul C. Demakis '75 (D-Back Bay)--proposes several changes to strengthen the mechanisms that encourage the payment of small claims judgments.

"S. 767 will make it easier for people who have been ripped off by crooked landlords and fly-by-night repairmen to collect the compensation they deserve," said Elizabeth R. Pope '98, director of law reform of SCAS.

SCAS is a non-profit, public service organization affiliated with Phillips Brooks House Association that provides low-income communities with information about the small claims system.

The bill seeks to enforce debt collections by providing clear information to both parties, scheduling automatic payment hearings 30 days after a judgment is issued and ordering the employer of a debtor to pay wages directly to the creditor.

In addition, the bill charges debtors late fees for each month a judgment goes unpaid and prohibits debtors from renewing their driver's licenses.

Carlton F. Larson '97, former executive legal director of SCAS, testified yesterday that the problems of debt collection plagued their clients both at Harvard and across the state.

"I explained the frustrations that many of our clients had felt," Larson said. "Our research shows a widespread systemic problem across the courts of Massachusetts."

If the bill is approved by the joint judiciary committee, it will go on to the Ways and Means Committee. Provided it passes that step as well, it will be introduced to the state senate or house.

A similar bill was introduced last session by Jacques--Senate bill 2129 (S. 2129)--which passed the judiciary committee but died in Ways and Means at the end of the session because of a lack of interest in the bill.

At the beginning of this year's legislative session, SCAS submitted a bill to Demakis which became House bill 1344 (H. 1344) and was largely based on S. 2129. SCAS then agreed to support Jacques new bill, S. 767, in the hopes that it would garner more support. However, SCAS insisted on certain changes before it would support the bill, according to Pope, who was primarily responsible for the negotiations.

The Jacques bill has a provision that would raise the cap for cases to be included under small claims from $2,000 to $3,000. Although SCAS did not include this provision in H. 1344, it agreed to the compromise because, among other things, Jacques agreed to add the driver's license provision and clarifying information to her new bill.

Jacques defended the importance of the new bill yesterday.

"This is a vitally important initiative to restore integrity to what is truly the 'People's Court,'" Jacques said. "There are more small claims complaints filed every year in Massachusetts, more than 100,000 annually, than any other type of claim, with the exception of appeals of motor vehicle infractions."

John N. Orsini '98, the executive director of SCAS, said the program marked a movement toward the completion of SCAS' and PBHA's mission to provide both social service and social action to the community.

"Social service is to provide service to those who are disadvantaged...social action is to change the structure," Orsini said. "We feel this is a strong way to bring the social action component back to PBHA.

A similar bill was introduced last session by Jacques--Senate bill 2129 (S. 2129)--which passed the judiciary committee but died in Ways and Means at the end of the session because of a lack of interest in the bill.

At the beginning of this year's legislative session, SCAS submitted a bill to Demakis which became House bill 1344 (H. 1344) and was largely based on S. 2129. SCAS then agreed to support Jacques new bill, S. 767, in the hopes that it would garner more support. However, SCAS insisted on certain changes before it would support the bill, according to Pope, who was primarily responsible for the negotiations.

The Jacques bill has a provision that would raise the cap for cases to be included under small claims from $2,000 to $3,000. Although SCAS did not include this provision in H. 1344, it agreed to the compromise because, among other things, Jacques agreed to add the driver's license provision and clarifying information to her new bill.

Jacques defended the importance of the new bill yesterday.

"This is a vitally important initiative to restore integrity to what is truly the 'People's Court,'" Jacques said. "There are more small claims complaints filed every year in Massachusetts, more than 100,000 annually, than any other type of claim, with the exception of appeals of motor vehicle infractions."

John N. Orsini '98, the executive director of SCAS, said the program marked a movement toward the completion of SCAS' and PBHA's mission to provide both social service and social action to the community.

"Social service is to provide service to those who are disadvantaged...social action is to change the structure," Orsini said. "We feel this is a strong way to bring the social action component back to PBHA.

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