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Mills' budget only scratching the surface for MCILS

Gov. Janet Mills is proposing $17 million for the Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services in her new biennial budget.

AUGUSTA, Maine — For Maine people accused of crimes who can't afford their own attorney, the state is required to provide them with a lawyer.

"We have one job, which is to ensure that if a person in Maine is charged with a crime they get the representation to which they're entitled to," Justin Andrus, executive director of the Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services (MCILS), said.

Andrus added that MCILS is having a hard time doing that one job.

"These resources are vital to making sure that we can accomplish that one job," Andrus said.

Gov. Janet Mills is proposing using $17 million of her new biennial budget toward MCILS.

Mills said this almost doubles the commission's current budget. Of that $17 million, Mills explained she wants to use $13.2 million to create a new tiered system to increase the pay for attorneys who take on more difficult cases. She also plans to use $3.6 million to hire 10 more public defenders, which brings the number of state public defenders to 15.

"[We] have just now hired the five individuals for the current pilot project and I'm certainly anxious to see, as everyone else is, how that will fair and we offered to double that in this budget to 10 people, essentially doing multiple pilot projects," Mills said in a press conference 

While Maine only currently has five public defenders, there are other attorneys who take on these cases. Currently, there are 62 private attorneys who take on these cases, which Andrus said is barely scratching the surface.

"We need to go from the 62 attorneys we have now to 208," Andrus said.

The governor's budget still needs to go to the legislature's appropriations committee before any of these proposals are voted on.

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