Hands in handcuffs hold money

Millions of Americans across the country have had their driver’s licenses or voting rights suspended because of the same thing: unpaid court fees. California just became the first state to waive these fees for low-income individuals. Here’s what that means.

What Are Court Fees?

People who have been charged with civil infractions or criminal offenses are charged fees for things like their court representation or as a way for the court to raise funds for other programs. When released from jail, people often face fees of several thousand dollars.

These fines can be a huge burden for newly released people, who do not yet have jobs, which can further delay them from rejoining society. Making things worse, if you are unable to pay these fees, you may face punishments like a suspended driver’s license, which can make it even harder to get back on your feet.

California Making Waves

In 2019, San Francisco made history by doing away with the practice of charging administrative court fees. The city also erased $32 million of outstanding unpaid court fees. Now, California as a whole will no longer charge court fees to low-income individuals.

In 21 states, people who have unpaid court fees after a felony conviction may have their right to vote in elections withheld until they pay off these debts. This has quickly become a hot topic in the discussion of the 2020 presidential election, where concerns and accusations of voter disenfranchisement have abounded.

What Happens in Florida

Billionaire, former New York City mayor, and former Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg recently made headlines for spending $16 million to pay off the court fees for 32,000 convicted felons in Florida, enabling them to vote in the upcoming election. This prompted the state attorney general to launch an investigation into whether Bloomberg was in violation of state election laws.

Though President Trump called the action “criminal” no criminal charges have been filed yet against Bloomberg. Regardless, administrative court fees may soon become a larger voting issue across the country.

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