03/04/19 -- HCS HB 192 -- Prohibit show cause hearings for unpaid jail fees

Bill Number: 
HCS HB 192
Bill Purpose: 
Prohibit show cause hearings for unpaid jail fees
Date of Vote: 
My Vote: 

HCS HB 192, introduced by Representative Bruce DeGroot (Republican - District 101), prohibits courts from ordering "show cause" hearings in cases where people have unpaid jail fees.  This is a great bill that solves a big problem. 

Currently in many jurisdictions, when someone is held in county jail they are assessed a daily "board bill" to cover the costs of their stay after their release.  I find that practice unacceptable - if we are holding someone against their will (who at that part of the process is presumed innocent under the law), I believe the taxpayer aught to step up and foot the bill for their jail stay.  But nonetheless, many areas do assess these fees.  In many cases, these people are unable to afford to pay such fees outright -- often even a short stay in jail will result in the loss of a job or other income.  When these folks are unable to pay, judges will frequently order a "show cause" hearing, in which the person is ordered to return to court to justify why they have not yet paid their fee.  This is a significant burden on these people, as they must take time off work, find childcare, etc.  In many cases these people are barely getting by, and simply cannot afford to miss work to attend court (or are threatened with a loss of their job if they take time off).  As a result, it isn't uncommon for them to miss these hearings.  Once that occurs, the judge will order a bench warrant for failing to appear, the person will be arrested, and will subsequently serve more jail time.  They will then be assessed an additional board bill, which will get them deeper into debt and make their situation even worse.  This process will often repeat itself several times, often over the course of many years, leaving the person with a bill so enormous they will never reasonably be able to pay.  The result of all this is the functional equivalent of a debtor's prison. 

This bill aims to fix this problem by prohibiting the practice of ordering the "show cause" hearings, and instead requiring the courts to use standard collection methods to collect unpaid board bills.  They would still be allowed to garnish wages, etc, but they cannot haul someone back into court time and again to explain why they cannot pay.

I enthusiastically voted "yes" on this.  Luckily it passed by a huge margin, with only one person voting against it.