San Diego County administration building
The historic San Diego County administration building. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to eliminate the assessment and collection of criminal fees in conjunction with a state law that goes into effect July 1.

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 1869, also known as the “Family Over Fees Act,” last September, making California the first state in the nation to repeal most criminal administrative fees and forgive associated debt.

The Board of Supervisors’ action amends administrative code to match the state law, which will directly impact the county’s Public Defender, Probation and Sheriff’s departments.

Public Defender Randy Mize said eliminating criminal justice fees “will help to maintain the stability of financial resources for some of our most vulnerable residents.”

“These fees have always been a burden for low-income individuals and families,” Mize added.

According to a presentation by the Debt Free Justice Coalition before the state Legislature, those fees disproportionately impact low-income individuals and persons of color who are overrepresented in the criminal justice system, Mize said.

“The collection rate for these fees has historically been low because justice-involved individuals already face major challenges in finding employment and even housing,” Mize said. “Handing someone a bill for hundreds, even thousands of dollars, that will never be collected makes no sense.”

Certain adult probation fees will be eliminated, including investigation supervision and GPS tracking.

“Eliminating criminal fees like these will allow those on probation to redirect their limited financial resources to critical needs like food, shelter, education and even health insurance for both themselves and their family members,” said Cesar Escuro, the county’s interim chief probation officer.

Escuro added the new law’s provision for vacating existing debt is just as important as fee elimination and will help a large number of county residents.

“In the past, failure to pay these fees resulted in severe consequences such as driver’s license suspensions, and negative financial information forwarded to credit reporting agencies,” he said. “Forgiving these debts is a step toward justice system reform as studies have shown they disproportionately affect lower-income households.”

The new law will cost the county an estimated $3.6 million. However, the Legislature approved $65 million to be distributed to counties to make up for lost revenues beginning in fiscal year 2021-22 and continuing through 2026. It’s unclear at this time how much San Diego County will receive.

The county will inform residents affected by the new state law, and also publish details and information contacts on its website prior to July 1.

–City News Service

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