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PRESS RELEASE: Governor Signs Historic Bill Repealing Unjust Criminal Fees in California, Providing Much Needed Relief to Californians 

***Western Center is part of the Debt Free Justice Coalition, which worked to achieve the historic, first in the country victory to end state law authorizing specified criminal justice fees, resulting in the repeal of 23 criminal justice fees and expunging an estimated $16 Billion in outstanding debt.***

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Governor Signs Historic Bill Repealing Unjust Criminal Fees in California, Providing Much Needed Relief to Californians

SACRAMENTO, CA—Last Friday, Governor Gavin Newsom signed AB 1869, making California the first state in the country to repeal administrative fees in the criminal system. This historic reform will reduce the harm caused by court-imposed debt and strengthen the economic security of low-income communities of color.

AB 1869 permanently ends the assessment and collection of 23 administrative fees in the criminal system effective July 1, 2021. The bill also writes off all outstanding fee debt. The Policy Advocacy Clinic at Berkeley Law estimates that AB 1869 will relieve Californians of over $16 billion in outstanding criminal fee debt, the vast majority of which is uncollectible because people cannot afford to pay.

According to Senate Budget Chair Senator Holly J. Mitchell (D-Los Angeles): “For too long, the imposition of fees by our courts has taken away much-needed resources from people and perpetuated historic forms of racialized wealth extraction. By eliminating these criminal administrative fees, we can put money back in the pockets of Black and Latinx people and invest in the public health and safety of all communities.”

Currently, California law permits counties to charge people administrative fees related to their legal representation, probation, and incarceration. These fees often add up to thousands of dollars for a single person and pose significant barriers to reentry. Unpaid fees can be enforced via wage garnishment, bank levy, and tax refund intercept.

“As a public defender, it is painful to watch clients be saddled with fees, knowing that they won’t be able to pay,” said San Francisco Public Defender Mano Raju, whose office is part of Debt Free Justice California. “The criminal legal system disrupts people’s lives and families in so many ways that adding financial penalties sets people up for failure when we should be setting them up for future success. By eliminating fees, we’re paving the way to more resilient communities.”

Angelique Evans, an organizer with A New Way of Life, shared her experience: “Almost immediately after being released from prison, Los Angeles County told me that I owed over $3,000 in administrative fees. As a mother, I wanted to prioritize taking care of my son and getting back on my feet. The fees held me back, both emotionally and financially. This bill will allow people returning home to focus on what matters most—rebuilding our families and lives.”

AB 1869 builds on years of organizing and advocacy by Debt Free Justice California. Research by the coalition shows that imposing fees on people in the criminal system is high pain because it leaves many with insurmountable debt, and low gain because counties net little, if any, revenue from these fees. Due to over-policing and racial bias in the system, the burden of fees falls disproportionately on Black and Latinx communities.

Out of concern for racial and economic justice, legality, and costs, four counties—San Francisco, Alameda, Contra Costa, and Los Angeles stopped charging some discretionary fees over the last few years. AB 1869 brings debt-free justice to all Californians across the state.

Jhumpa Bhattacharya, Vice President of the Insight Center for Community and Economic Development and member of Debt Free Justice California, said: “We joined together as a coalition to think bigger, broader, and more critically about how anti-Blackness, xenophobia and sexism underpin the rules of our economy, the criminal system and policing. The imposition of criminal fees was not simply a matter of good or bad fiscal policy, but a reflection of multiple systems of entrenched racism that have led to targeted policing and over-incarceration of Black and Brown communities, consequently widening racial and gender wealth inequality.”

The passage of AB 1869 will help California begin the process of reinvesting in communities and disinvesting from our carceral system.

CONTACTS:
Jhumpa Bhattacharya, Vice President of Programs and Strategy Clinical Supervising Attorney, Insight Center for Community Economic Development, 510-466-1711, jhumpa[at]insightcced.org

Stephanie Campos-Bui, UC Berkeley School of Law Policy Advocacy Clinic, 760-349-6631, scamposbui[at]law.berkeley.edu

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Debt Free Justice California is a multi-regional, California-based coalition focused on putting a stop to the unfair ways the criminal system drains wealth from vulnerable communities. The coalition is comprised of legal advocates, policy experts, and most importantly, movement building organizations led by impacted people. For more information, visit: https://ebclc.org/cadebtjustice/about/.

Legislature Set to Adjourn without Voting on Wealth-Tax Proposals

“Mike Herald, director of policy advocacy for the Western Center on Law and Poverty, said the bills would have raised an estimated $23 billion, funds he said are needed to prevent widespread suffering, on top of the chaos already wrought by the pandemic.

“These matters would prevent devastating cuts to things like the K-12 system, to child care, Medi-Cal benefits, in-home supportive services, welfare,” Herald said. “Recessions often cause us to cut when we probably need to be paying out the benefits at the highest level.”

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California tenants hurt by pandemic would get five-month eviction break under new bill

“Mike Herald, director of policy advocacy for the Western Center on Law & Poverty, a legal aid organization that was involved in bill negotiations, said he would be watching in the coming weeks to make sure landlords don’t look for ways to get around the law. He said the governor and Legislature must figure out a way to address the financial fallout of widespread nonpayment of rent next year.

“This staves off the worst of the potential crisis that could have come, but it does still leave off some very big issues,” he said.”

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Statement on California Eviction Protections during the Pandemic as of August 28, 2020

Western Center and the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation co-sponsored AB 1436 (Chiu) this year to ensure tenants would not be evicted because of their inability to pay rent during a global pandemic that has had devastating economic consequences. AB 3088, which was announced today, includes eviction protections for tenants who cannot afford to pay rent. These protections are critical and we urge the Legislature to pass the bill and the Governor to sign it.

However, AB 3088 is only part of the solution. It is a needed but temporary fix to protect tenants from eviction who are struggling to afford rent. We still need a long-term solution to the pandemic’s financial consequences for tenants, small landlords, and affordable housing providers. Our organizations are committed to working with stakeholders, the Legislature, and the Governor to ensure that new legislation to provide the long-term fix is ready to be enacted by the end of January.

While AB 3088 will help protect tenants from being evicted for nonpayment of rent during the COVID crisis, it is not a complete solution to the looming eviction crisis. Many tenants will be unprotected once the Judicial Council’s Emergency Rule 1 is repealed on September 1st, which put a pause on almost all eviction proceedings.

Evictions other than those for nonpayment of rent—including evictions where the landlord provides no reason — will move forward starting September 2nd. In announcing the repeal of the Rule, the Chief Justice reminded the Governor and the Legislature that it is their role to make policy in this area, not the court’s.

As we continue to struggle to contain COVID-19, allowing any evictions other than those necessary for safety is dangerous and contrary to public health directives. 

Like the COVID crisis itself, the removal of Emergency Rule 1 will disproportionately impact Black and Brown renters, exacerbating the state’s stark economic and health disparities, and impeding a just and equitable economic recovery. It will also lead to voter disenfranchisement in an election that will rely almost entirely on mail-in ballots, which require a reliable address.

Western Center and CRLAF will monitor the impacts of evictions once Emergency Rule 1 is lifted and AB 3088, if enacted, takes effect—specifically how evictions impact tenants with low incomes. We will bring forth additional proposals as warranted to ensure tenants are protected.

A COVID-induced eviction “tidal wave” in California can be prevented, but it will require the Governor, Legislature, and Courts to coordinate and act quickly.

The California Judicial Council, the head of the state’s court system, announced its intention to repeal the temporary COVID-emergency rule pausing eviction proceedings. This comes after months of back and forth about how the state can best prevent Californians from being forced into homelessness because of their inability to pay rent in the midst of a pandemic. The Council delayed a vote to repeal the rule once, in June, but stated that the rule was only meant as a temporary stop-gap until lawmakers come up with a more permanent solution.

The Council is right—the rule is not a permanent fix; the Legislature and Governor must act swiftly to establish a longer-term solution to protect tenants and small landlords. The fate of hundreds of thousands of Californians is in the hands of the Governor and Legislature; in the meantime, ending the Judicial Council rule now with only weeks’ notice and allowing a flood of evictions just as COVID cases are spiking will cause needless and substantial harm to Californians who cannot pay rent.

Several bills are currently before the Legislature to protect renters and mobile home park residents from eviction for being unable to pay rent during the pandemic, provide economic relief to landlords and affordable housing providers through mortgage forbearance and financial assistance, and provide a moratorium on all evictions for the duration of the COVID emergency. It is crucial that the Legislature be thoughtful and deliberative to get the details right and not rush to meet an arbitrary deadline.

We need the Legislature to deliver and the Governor to sign legislation that provides the strongest eviction protections in the short term so that people can continue to shelter at home to control the spread of the virus, and meaningful long-term relief for tenants, small landlords, and affordable housing providers. 

We see three options that will protect renters and small landlords right now:

  1. The Judicial Council can keep the rule in place a little longer, instead of pulling the plug before the end of the legislative session.
  2. The Governor can issue an Executive Order to extend the Judicial Council rule until a legislative solution is enacted.
  3. The Legislature can pass an urgency bill to extend the rule until they have time to enact a permanent fix.

One of the above options MUST happen by September 2nd. Doing nothing will be a disaster for tenants and for the public health of the state.

The Judicial Council acted responsibly and in line with the urgency of the moment when it enacted its emergency eviction rule. Now the Governor and Legislature need to push the legislative process. If courts reopen for evictions as usual, even for a brief period, the impacts will be profound due to the number of cases already filed and the number of default judgments that will move forward on California’s extremely swift eviction timeline.

California leaders are not at the whim of forces beyond their control, but California renters are at the whim of our leaders’ ability to rise to the moment. If a wave of evictions happens in California in the wake of COVID, it will be because of inadequate action by the Governor and Legislature, and a lack of coordination with legislative deadlines by the Judicial Council.

‘Extremely frustrating:’ How tech breakdowns are hurting Gavin Newsom’s coronavirus response

“Lawyers who work with low-income clients continue to hear from people who have lost coverage even after the counties were notified, said David Kane, a lawyer who works for the Western Center on Law and Poverty. The state should be working harder to fix the problem, which is leaving vulnerable people without coverage in the middle of the pandemic, Kane said.

“It’s August, and they still haven’t completely fixed it,” Kane said.”

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