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Relating to the administrative, civil, and criminal consequences, including fines, fees, and costs, imposed on persons arrested for, charged with, or convicted of certain criminal offenses.
The bill would have a negative, but indeterminate, fiscal impact to the state due to
anticipated decreases in revenue associated with an unknown number of defendants being
unable to pay court costs and fees.
SB 1637 would require courts to only consider a defendant's present ability to pay when determining whether a defendant is able to pay fines and costs (rather than their ability to pay at the time of the offense). The bill would also allow magistrates to require a bond to release defendants charged with misdemeanors only punishable by fine, but would prevent a judge from issuing an arrest warrant for failure to attend a court hearing for a fine-only offense.
If a defendant notifies the court that they would have difficulty paying the fines and costs, the court would be required to hold a hearing to determine whether the judgment imposes an undue hardship on the defendant. To determine if the fines and costs place an undue burden on the defendant, the court may consider the defendant’s: (1) significant physical or mental impairment, (2) pregnancy and childbirth, (3) substantial family commitments, (4) work responsibilities and hours, (5) transportation limitations, (6) homelessness, and (7) any other factor the court determines relevant.
Additionally, this bill would require courts to lift a warrant for failure to pay a fine if the defendant voluntarily appears in court and makes a good faith effort to satisfy the citation; allow defendants to perform community service in their county of residence; add a provision for sentencing reconsideration hearings if a defendant indicates that he or she in unable to comply with a sentence; and allow courts to hold hearings by phone or video conference.
Texas Action supports SB 1637 as it advances the principle of limited government and individual liberty. The bill prevents individuals from being incarcerated for failure to appear in court on a fine-only offense. In turn, this would save the taxpayer funds at the county level by avoiding needless incarceration of individuals who are not a danger to society. In addition, this bill protects individual liberty by keeping individual's out of jail, and subsequently, able to work and more likely to pay their court costs.