Student loan bill takes first steps Student loan bill takes first steps March 15, 2005 Regular News A bill that would allow the state to repay student loans for some of its long-term attorneys has cleared its first hurdle.SB 190, which would allow the state to repay up to $44,000 on student loans for assistant public defenders, assistant state attorneys, assistant attorneys general, and assistant statewide prosecutors cleared the Senate Governmental Oversight and Productivity Committee on February 23. It was approved by a 5-0 vote after three minor amendments were added.It has already cleared the Senate Judiciary in January, and next goes to the Justice Appropriations Committee.The bill allows the state to repay up to $3,000 a year for student loans for attorneys in the four job categories who have been on the job for at least three years. After six years, the payment goes up to $5,000 a year, with a maximum repayment of $44,000.According to information provided to the committee, the average first year assistant state attorney makes $41,554.84; the first year assistant public defender earns $42.410.18; and the assistant attorney general $39,311 (figures were not available for assistant statewide prosecutors). After three years, those salaries are typically $51,108.36, $51,282.48, and $47,313, respectively.For those with law school loan debt, those who graduated from public law schools have an average debt of $54,025 and those from private schools typically owe $77,183.The three amendments provide that the loans must not be in default or have accrued late fees; the applying attorney must annually submit an affidavit of certification; and if an eligible attorney has more than one loan, the payments will first be applied to the loan with the highest interest rate.Bill supporters have argued the loan repayment program is justified because public attorneys typically make less than those entering private practice. State attorneys and public defenders have said the measure could help them retain experienced staff, who often leave for private practice because of the onus of repaying student loans.A similar measure, HB 169, has been filed and referred to the Judiciary Committee, the Justice Appropriations Committee, and the Justice Council. As this News went to press, it had not been heard. HB 169 provides for the loan repayments for assistant state attorneys, assistant public defenders, and qualified trial court staff attorneys.The Bar’s Young Lawyers Division has taken a legislative position supporting loan repayments for experienced government attorneys, at the local, state, and federal level, and including legal aid attorneys.