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Proposed White House budget outlines legal priorities

The proposed fiscal 2013 budget released by the White House outlines a number of the administration’s priorities related to lawyers, from an increase in enforcement of federal employment and labor laws to more focused attention on food and drug safety and immigration enforcement.

A boost in employment-related enforcement

The Department of Labor’s budget seeks to boost enforcement efforts. The spending plan calls for $372 million for the Mine Safety and Health Administration to enforce safety and health laws, among other things. The plan calls for a $565 million budget for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, including a $5 million increase to bolster OSHA’s enforcement of anti-retaliation rules.

The budget proposal also allotted $238 million for the Wage and Hour Division, which includes a $6 million increase in funding for enforcement of the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act. The measure also calls for an increase in staffing for the E-Verify program, indicating possible stepped up enforcement in that arena as well.

The budget allocates $14 million to combat employee misclassification, including $10 million for state-based grants to identify misclassification and recover unpaid taxes and $4 million for federal investigators.

Also on the employment front, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s plan seeks to hold its budget largely steady, but to reallocate those funds to address certain priorities such as continuing to reduce the backlog of private sector charges.

The Commission also proposed measures to increase enforcement of civil rights laws in the employment context through collaboration with other agencies, including the Department of Justice and the Department of Labor.

FDA seeks monetary boost

The Food and Drug Administration is requesting a $654 million increase over fiscal 2012, which would increase its budget to $4.4 billion. But agency officials pointed out that $1.9 billion of that amount would come from user fees.

The increase in the budget would go to benefit a number of safety programs, according to FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg. The budget calls for boosting resources used to detect and address risks of imported products, imposing new user fees to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act and reauthorizing current user fees imposed for prescription drugs, medical devices and other products.

Justice focuses on mortgage fraud, immigration, civil rights

The Justice Department budget proposal focuses on initiatives such as combating mortgage fraud, immigration enforcement and civil rights litigation.

The spending plan calls for an additional $55 million to investigate and prosecute financial and mortgage crimes. According to the spending request, the increased funding will support additional FBI agents, prosecutors, civil litigators, investigators, forensic accountants and other support positions to aid the investigation and prosecution of financial fraud-related crimes. That includes securities and commodities fraud, investment scams and mortgage foreclosure schemes.

The requested amount would also cover proposed increased action to address emerging cyber security threats and to support the Department’s transnational organized crime enforcement activities, among other measures.

On the immigration front, the Department seeks to fund additional programs related to, but not limited to, enforcement, detention, judicial functions, administrative hearings and litigation.

The plan also calls for “vigorous” enforcement of federal civil rights laws. The spending will support the Civil Rights Division’s work to address areas such as human trafficking, hate crimes, voting rights enforcement and fair lending enforcement, according to the budget statement.

Modest boost for legal services

The White House plan calls for a 15 percent increase in the budget of the Legal Services Corp., which would bring the agency’s funding to $402 million for fiscal 2013. The LSC serves 63 million Americans, including 22 million children, who qualify for legal aid.

The proposal was applauded by the president of the American Bar Association.

“The current LSC budget of $348 million is simply inadequate,” said ABA president William Robinson. “We have an obligation to ensure a strong funding level for LSC so that our courts can function effectively and veterans, the elderly, disaster victims and families facing foreclosure have somewhere to turn for free legal advice.”

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