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Fee Abolition: Ignoring the Law in Riverside County

“Unfortunately, no one tracks fee burden by racial demographic… Because Black and Latinx youth were over punished, they also faced higher fee burdens.” -Courtney McKinney, Director of Communications with the Western Center on Law and Poverty

https://blackvoicenews.com/2020/11/23/fee-abolition-ignoring-the-law-in-riverside-county/

Western Center’s 2020 Legislative Roundup

2020 has been an unusual year, and the California legislative session was no exception — everyone from legislators to advocates had to adjust to the year’s challenges. Western Center started the year with 38 bills, but due to COVID-19, the Legislature significantly narrowed the number of bills. Even so, our advocates worked tirelessly to make sure people with low incomes are protected in California law, both during the pandemic and after it’s over. Here is a roundup of our sponsored and co-sponsored bills – those that passed, and some we will bring back next year.

Bills signed

ACCESS TO JUSTICE & PUBLIC BENEFITS

  • SB 144 (Mitchell)/AB 1869 (Budget Committee) to repeal state law authorizing specified criminal justice fees. The bill was parked and we moved the language into a trailer bill which repealed 23 of the criminal justice fees and expunged an estimated $16 Billion in outstanding debt associated with these fees. We achieved this historic, first in the country victory in coordination with the Debt Free Justice Coalition.
  • SB 1290 (Durazo and Mitchell) to require counties to stop collecting juvenile fees assessed before 2018. Our sponsored bill SB 190 stopped new debt from accumulating after that date, but did not eliminate existing debt. We are now the first state in the country to completely eliminate juvenile fees, which is an important step in state disinvestment in the carceral system.
  • SB 1409 (Caballero) requires the Franchise Tax Board to analyze and develop a plan to implement a “no return” tax filing pilot program to increase the number of claims of the CalEITC (California Earned Income Tax Credit).
  • SB 1065 (Hertzberg) to make specified changes to the CalWORKs Homeless Assistance Program. This bill is a favorite of public benefit legal services programs, and bookends about four years’ worth of legislation. Currently, domestic violence impacted CalWORKs recipients have 16 days of a hotel voucher and another 16 days if an application is still pending. SB 1065 extends the 32 days to everyone regardless of whether or not their application was approved. It also allows for the repeal of an asset test of $100 on the program; allows rental assistance to cover first, last, and deposit (rather than just first and deposit); allows a sworn statement by family to verify that a family is homeless rather than requiring county verification; and eliminates responsibility of the client to return to the county every four days to verify homelessness. It also improves disaster provisions by making eligibility conditioned upon a family becoming homeless as a direct and primary result of a state or federal declared disaster (including pandemic).
  • AB 3073 (Wicks) to require the Department of Social Services to issue guidance on the allowable practices to maximize CalFresh eligibility for people leaving jail or prison. Click here for a copy of a report we published on this topic.
  • AB 2325 (Carrillo) would restore Section 4007.5 of the Family Code with a 3 year sunset. This law was allowed to sunset last year, requiring child support order suspensions to be process manually for people who are incarcerated over 90 days, rather than have them automatically suspended. We worked in coalition on this bill with Truth and Justice in Child Support.

*Budget Bills we supported in coalition:

  • Ending exclusion of ITIN tax filers in CalEITC.
  • Institute Homestead Act protections against home loss during bankruptcy, and to establish a new state entity charged with licensing debt collectors and protecting consumers from abusive and illegal debt collection practices.
  • Restored CalWORKs assistance to the full 60 months permitted under federal law beginning in 2022.
  • Expanded the amount of child support payments CalWORKs families can keep from $50 a month to $100 a month for one child, and up to $200 for two or more children.

HEALTH

  • AB 2520 (Chiu) will increase access to public benefit programs by requiring doctors to complete forms and make it easier to obtain medical records for people in need of benefits programs.
  • AB 2276 (Reyes) would implement the California Auditor’s recommendations to increase blood lead screenings of children on Medi-Cal, as already mandated, and would require the Department of Public Health to update risk factors for evaluating risk of lead poisoning.

HOUSING

  • AB 3088 (Chiu) – AB 1482 Clean-Up: cleans up a number of confusing provisions in last year’s AB 1482, which limited rent increases and required just cause for evictions for tenants in multifamily properties over 15 years old. The bill was also amended during the last week of the legislative session to include a negotiated compromise around protecting tenants from eviction due to COVID through January 2021. That portion of the bill did not have sponsors.

A few bills that didn’t pass this year, but will be back in 2021

  • SB 1399 (Durazo) to address wage theft in California’s garment industry. It failed to make it out of the Legislature this year, in spite of a remarkable grassroots efforts by workers and advocates, and despite the fact that many of the workers experiencing wage theft are the same essential workers who have been sewing masks during the pandemic. Our coalition, led by LA’s Garment Worker Center, will bring the bill back next year.
  • AB 683 (Carrillo) to fix Medi-Cal’s restrictive asset test, which only applies to elders and people with disabilities, was held in committee despite broad community support. The current extremely low limit on allowable assets forces many of the same people most susceptible to COVID-19 to choose between health care and saving for an emergency. We will keep fighting to change that next year.
  • AB 826 (Santiago) would have provided emergency food assistance for Californians who are underserved by other food assistance programs. It was vetoed by the Governor on September 29th. Coverage of the veto can be found in CalMatters, Los Angeles Times, and Associated Press.

 

 

PRESS RELEASE: Senators Maria Elena Durazo and Holly Mitchell introduce SB 1290 to ensure debt-free justice for all California youth

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

SACRAMENTO – Senator Maria Elena Durazo (D-Los Angeles) and Senator Holly Mitchell (DLos Angeles) introduced Senate Bill 1290 (SB 1290) on February 21, 2020 to end the collection of administrative fees charged to youth 21 and under in the juvenile and criminal (adult) systems.

The Legislature abolished youth fees through the bipartisan passage of Senate Bill 190 in 2018, but the bill did not prevent counties from collecting fees that were assessed prior to the ban. This new legislation will close that loophole, ending the collection of more than $136 million charged predominantly to low-income families and disproportionately to families of color.

According to Senator Durazo, “Senate Bill 1290 will require counties to stop collecting and formally discharge these regressive and discriminatory fees. Programs that are meant to serve our communities should not be funded by collecting on the debt of very poor people. Most counties have already done the right thing by voluntarily waiving these old fees. Now it is time for the state to act to end them once and for all.”

A 2019 study by the Policy Advocacy Clinic at UC Berkeley School of Law found that 36 of 58 California counties have voluntarily ended the collection of $237 million in previously assessed juvenile fees. However, 22 counties continue to pursue more than $136 million charged to the families of system-involved youth.

“Now is the time to erase ALL outstanding debt for families who are affected by the juvenile justice system,” says Senator Mitchell. “In 2017 I introduced SB 190, ending the costly assessment and collection of juvenile administrative fees. Senator Durazo’s bill takes the law a step further to make sure families are relieved from financial burdens erasing back-owed debt. We have to change the economic and racial disparities in the criminal justice system.”

Just five counties – San Diego, Orange, Riverside, Tulare, and Stanislaus – are responsible for more than 95% of all outstanding fees.

San Diego County charged Andrew Simmons more than $15,000 in fees when his adopted son got into trouble. “We love our children and work to support the intensive care that many of them needed. Unfortunately, the bill has done nothing to relieve the burden placed on us by the County and has put the security of our younger children at risk by placing a lien on our house and indicating that they may garnish our wages,” said Simmons. “Not only is this a personal challenge for us but this practice was one of the reasons people did not adopt older children with special needs. The system should not punish people for opening their homes and giving young people a chance for a family and home.”

Researchers have also found that juvenile fees generate little or no revenue for counties. According to the co-author of the Berkeley study, Stephanie Campos-Bui, “The collection of these fees nets little revenue for counties because the vast majority of families cannot afford to pay. In fact, we found that some counties were spending more to collect fees than they were generating in revenue.”

In fiscal year 2014-15, Orange County spent over $1.7 million to employ 23 individuals to collect just over $2 million in juvenile administrative fees. Since 2018, Orange County’s estimate of annual collections has dropped to $1.1 million per year. In the two years since SB 190 ended new fees assessments, Orange County has collected less than 6% of outstanding juvenile fees. Riverside County reported collecting less than 3% of outstanding fees since January 2018.

Jessica Bartholow of the Western Center on Law & Poverty, a bill co-sponsor, notes the high pain and low gain of counties continuing to collect youth fees: “These fees were bad public policy when they were enacted decades ago and they are bad public policy now. They undermined both youth rehabilitation and public safety with little documented economic benefit to the counties, which is why the Legislature abolished them in 2018 with a large bipartisan majority. We applaud Senator Durazo and the bill co-authors for taking this final step to end the harm of outstanding fees and look forward to working with community leaders and allies to secure the bill’s passage.”

Anthony Robles, an organizer with co-sponsor Youth Justice Coalition, sees SB 1290 as just the beginning of a growing national movement for change: “Years of organizing by directly impacted communities, formerly incarcerated youth and their families, with support from advocates and partners, has led to this strengthening movement to bring debt free justice to all California families and hopefully all families across the country.”

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CONTACTS
Jessica Bartholow – Western Center on Law & Poverty: (916) 282-5119; jbartholow[at]wclp.org

Anthony Robles – Youth Justice Coalition: (626) 838-9450; anthony[at]youth4justice.org

Some Counties Illegally Levy Juvenile Legal Fees—Low-Income Families of Color Are Hit Hardest

“Even with all this evidence that fees are recidivistic and fees are bad for children and bad for communities of color … we still end up with counties choosing to continue to collect them, and that’s really disappointing,” said Jess Bartholow, legislative advocate at the Western Center on Law & Poverty, which sponsored the original legislation. “Why would we allow these fees to continue to be out there and create harm?”

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Lawsuit: Los Angeles Overcharges Poor Probationers

At the legal clinic run by A New Way of Life, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit that provides shelter and services to formerly incarcerated women and their children, attorneys noticed a concerning pattern.

Community members who served jail or prison time persistently told attorneys that they “were being charged excessive amounts for the cost of probation, amounts that they couldn’t ever hope to repay,” said C.T. Turney-Lewis, the group’s supervising staff attorney. Oftentimes, they “have no income and were leaving probation with thousands and thousands of dollars in outstanding costs.”

…The criminal justice-related fees assessed by California counties are among the highest in the country, with Los Angeles topping the list, according to a study by the Western Center on Law & Poverty, an advocacy group of legal scholars. 

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