Federal Marital Benefits for Same-Sex Couples, Long Term Funding for Stimulus Projects are Among Hot Topics Facing ABA Policymakers

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Association's House of Delegates to debate controversies, current issues, national policies

President Barack Obama extended some partnership rights to federal workers in same-sex relationships. But the American Bar Association House of Delegates will be asked this month to take Obama's action a step further by supporting repeal of a provision of the Defense of Marriage Act to allow all lawfully married same sex spouses access to federal marital benefits including Medicaid, Social Security survivor benefits and filing joint income tax returns.

The proposal neither supports nor opposes civil marriage for same-sex couples, say ABA proponents, but would ensure that state decisions on whether to recognize such marriages are given deference under federal laws and programs. The measure is advocated by ABA sections of Individual Rights and Responsibilities and Family Law, the Massachusetts Bar Association and the Beverly Hills and San Francisco bars.

The recommendation is just one of nearly three dozen proposals on the agenda for the association's policy making body when it convenes in Chicago's Hyatt Regency hotel, Aug. 3-4, during the ABA's 2009 Annual Meeting.

Online registration for news reporters is easier than ever. Credential guidelines are at http://www.abanews.org/credentials.html.

Also due for debate is a call for federal legislation authorizing annual funding to state and local governments starting in 2011, ensuring continuity of essential programs and services financed under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The recommendation would reward governments that promote efficiency and enhance service delivery, global competitiveness and the rule of law.

Other proposals would:

  • Endorse the right of every child to a high quality education, limit exclusion from regular educational programs as a response to despite discipline problems and support the right of youth who have left school to return to complete their education in high-quality, age-appropriate programs (Reports 118 A, B and C)
  • Adopt Eight Guidelines of Public Defense Related to Excessive Workloads, offering responses for public defense programs confronted with too many cases (Report 119)
  • Call for a national study of the state of criminal justice to consider ways to reduce crime, lower incarceration rates, save tax money, enhance fairness and accuracy and increase public confidence in the criminal justice system (Report 111B)
  • Adopt a model act governing representation of children in abuse, neglect and dependency proceedings (Report 103)
  • Urge courts to distinguish lawyer error from lawyer misconduct when citing lawyer acts or omissions in orders, opinions or findings (Report 111A)
  • Adopt a model sustainability policy and guidelines for law organizations to implement it (Report 117)
  • Encourage corporations to make more pro bono legal help available to consumers facing credit, mortgage, bankruptcy and other issues by waiving "positional conflicts of interest," freeing their lawyers to volunteer (Report 102A)
  • Support additional government funding for non-profit organizations to provide free legal service during disasters (Report 102B)
  • Approve a model act governing emergency holding periods for pets and other animals during disasters (Report 115)
  • Amend association Election Administrations Guidelines and Commentary with respect to provisional ballots to require poll workers to direct voters to their correct precinct locale (Report 116)
  • Urge Congress to direct federal agencies to issue regulations providing uniform and clear guidance on conflicts of interest in human clinical trials in such areas as drugs, medical devices and biological products (Report 120)
  • Urge courts to distinguish lawyer error from lawyer misconduct when citing lawyer acts or omissions in orders, opinions or findings (Report 111A).

All proposals are accessible here. To review any individual policy and supporting report, click on the report number. No proposal constitutes association policy unless and until the House of Delegates adopts it. Some offerings may be withdrawn, while other measures can be submitted up until the afternoon of Aug. 2. Any measure can be amended until it is taken to a vote.

The 555-member House of Delegates will convene Aug. 3 from 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. and on Aug. 4 from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. or the conclusion of business. The deliberative session includes members from state and local bar associations around the country, ABA affiliates and ABA entities, and is the finale of the ABA Annual Meeting. The ABA is the largest voluntary professional association in the world and a vigorous policy advocate before the federal government.

During the Annual Meeting, a press room for working journalists will be set up at the Hyatt Regency Chicago, Riverside Center, Purple Level, East Tower, and will be open for on-site media registration at 8 a.m. on July 30. Thereafter the press room will be open daily from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., and will close one hour after the adjournment of the House of Delegates on Aug. 4.

With more than 400,000 members, the American Bar Association is the largest voluntary professional membership organization in the world. As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, provides continuing legal education, and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law.

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