In 2018, the legislature passed a bill reducing legal financial obligations (LFO) imposed on defendants convicted of crimes. At that time, LFO legislation was one of the priorities identified at the 2017 Justice Summit. LFO’s are court costs and other financial costs that recently incarcerated people are required to pay after release, and they can deter them from paying other costs such as housing or job searches. HB 1412 would reduce these costs even more because it:
- Allows a court to refrain from imposing or waive full or partial restitution and accrued interest owed to any insurer or entity that is not an individual if the offender does not have the means to pay.
- Allows a court to not impose interest on restitution after inquiring into and considering specified factors and input of the victim.
- Revises standards for the waiver of accrued interest on restitution and non-restitution obligations.
- Revises the time periods in which judgments for restitution and non restitution legal financial obligations may be enforced.
- Establishes a revised standard of indigency for purposes of a number of provisions applicable to legal financial obligations.
Take Action: you can contact your representatives to support the bill by clicking on the bill number, HB 1412, which will take you to the bill information page on the legislative website. Then click on “Comment on this Bill,” fill in details to find your reps, and indicate that you support the bill. Below are some the comments made during hearings on February 3, 2021.
Hearing on HB 1412, February 3, 2021, House Civil Rights and Judiciary Committee
Staff: 1412 adjusts restitution, allows the court to refrain from imposing costs if defendant does not have means to pay. It allows a delay in restitution requirements. It requires court to consider if defendant is homeless or living in a household with poverty.
Prime Sponsor Simpsons (D – Bremerton) had been incarcerated, owed $6000 to state and was unable to pay while interest accrued, and was homeless. Now as a lawyer representing defendants faced with LFOs, she worked to reduce them. The 2018 bill provided some protections but this is stronger. Defendants have to sign financial statements under penalty of perjury if they don’t make a full declaration. We have required defendants to fund costs of prosecution, but not all have means to do so. Requirements may impact employment opportunities.
UW Sociology Professor Alexa Harris said that monetary sanctions including fines, user fees and interests; disproportionally BIPOC men face LFO costs and marginalizes them further. BIPOC men and women carry LFO costs for a longer time, lose driver licenses, and face escalating fines. Financial penalties further exacerbate inequalities. UW School of Justice Professor Martin said research indicates that impacts of costs are severe, costs doubling for BIPOC defendants. Many had drivers licenses revoked and spent time in jail for driving without license. Superior Court Judge David Keenan worked with professors Harris and Martin, and with the Minority and Justice Commission on LFOs. Research shows that BIPOC defendants owe up to three times what white defendants owe. Judge O’Donnell of Superior Court Judges Association said that judges should have discretion of requiring LFOs, particularly when it comes to costs imposed by interest for amounts owed. Robert Boyer, formerly incarcerated, told of his struggles to pay for $250,000 in costs and how it has affected his life. An I did the Time association member told of suicidal tendencies of some formerly incarcerated people facing costs. A Freedom Project leader discussed racial implications of LFOs. Several other formerly incarcerated people discussed all their financial difficulties under current law, particularly mounting interest payments. Washington Statewide Reentry Council and Thurston County Reentry Council discussed financial problems of reentry when LFOs are added to living costs. Former police officer discussed public safety implications of recidivism by formerly incarcerated people, and the high costs of putting people back in jail. Justice Action Network said bill allows judges to have discretion. Northwest Justice Project mentioned LFO burdens on people with disabilities. Case Western University Law Professor Adamson discussed LFO burdens on BIPOC people in poverty. Columbia Legal Services permits people to ask for relief from LFOs if they have few resources.
State Farm Insurance Company is concerned about people getting their lives together and judges should have discretion, but insurance companies have duty to shareholders; restitution is a way for insurance can cover losses; and recovery is credited back to client. Association of Washington Prosecution Attorneys supports most of bill but victims’ penalty assessment provision is not the best way to fund restitution. Statute of limitation limits the ability of prosecutors to gain back costs to victims. Washington Collectors’ Association objected to statue of limitations and the allowance for waiving costs by judges, which may be problematic for small businesses. Washington State Association of Counties discussed revenue problems that would be exacerbated by reducing payments of LFOs, and called for better state funding of court costs. Former police officer discussed public safety implications.