Gov. Newsom signs Families Over Fees Act, making California the first state in nation to repeal criminal administrative fees and debt!
Governor Gavin Newsom has signed the Families Over Fees Act (D-Holly Mitchell) making California the first state in the country to repeal criminal administrative fees and debt. This much-needed reform permanently ends the assessment and collection of 23 criminal administrative fees, such as probation fees and fees for public defenders, beginning July 1, 2021. The bill will also lift an estimated $16 billion of largely uncollectible debt from low-income communities of color.
AB 1869 builds on The Financial Justice Project’s work to end similar fees at the local level in San Francisco. In 2018, we worked with our Mayor, Public Defender, District Attorney, Treasurer, Sheriff, and Chief Probation Officer to make San Francisco the first county in the country to repeal all locally controlled criminal justice fees. A coalition of community groups also propelled these reforms. This local action waived $32 million in outstanding court debt from 21,000 of the most vulnerable San Franciscans.
Our analysis of these local criminal justice fees demonstrated that these fees significantly burden low-income families with debt while providing very little revenue for government; from 2012 to 2017, the average collection rate for San Francisco’s local criminal fees was just 17 percent.
The reason for these low collection rates is simple: justice-involved people already face significant challenges finding employment and housing and cannot afford to pay hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of dollars in criminal fees.
Studies have shown similar findings in other counties in California; some counties even spend more to collect these fees than they bring in. However, with AB 1869 becoming law, California has taken a powerful step towards ending predatory fine and fee practices.
The removal of these fees acknowledges that a California where all can thrive is one where government does not deplete the financial resources of our most vulnerable residents.
Thank you to our many partners in the Debt Free Justice Coalition for your advocacy on behalf of the thousands of Californians who will no longer have the cloud of court-imposed debt hanging over them.
Governor Newsom has until Wednesday, September 30 to sign another critical financial justice bill: SB 555 (Mitchell), which would drastically reduce the price of phone calls and commissary items in all California county jails and juvenile lockups.
We hope that the Governor will continue to establish California as a national leader in debt free justice by promptly signing SB 555 into law.