NEW YORK NOW – Democrats in the state Legislature are pushing a bill called the End Predatory Court Fees Act, which would reduce costs for litigants at New York’s courts, reduce minimum fines for certain offenses, and more.
Lawmakers and advocates rallied across the state Monday in support of the bill, which Assemlymember Yuh-Line Niou, D-Manhattan, said could help address the cycle of poverty that can exist in Black and brown communities.
“This is a system designed to criminalize poverty,” said Niou, who sponsors the bill.
“Marginalized New Yorkers who can’t pay the arbitrary fees baked into nearly every step of our state’s legal process deserve a justice system that doesn’t pick their pockets and jeopardize their freedom.”
The bill would, among other things, end court surcharges and fees, impose a ban on mandatory minimum fines for traffic offenses, and require that courts evaluate a person’s ability to pay a fine before it’s imposed.
The measure would also make it illegal to incarcerate someone for not paying a fine or court fee, and would cancel any warrants that have been issued for that reason.
Peggy Herrera, a leader with the Center for Community Alternatives, said the legislation could have helped save the life of Duante Wright, a man who was shot and killed by police during a traffic stop in Minnesota.
“After pulling him over, police found an outstanding warrant. He had $346 in fines and fees, and they sought to arrest him,” Herrera said. “By the end of the encounter, Duante was dead.”
For those who remain incarcerated, the bill would stop the use of an inmate’s commissary as a way to pay fines and surcharges.
The measure remains in the Codes Committee in both the State Senate and Assembly. This year’s legislative session is scheduled to end on June 10.