BILL ANALYSIS Ó Senate Appropriations Committee Fiscal Summary Senator Kevin de León, Chair AB 2724 (Bradford) - Failure to appear in court: fines. Amended: As Introduced Policy Vote: Public Safety 7-0 Urgency: No Mandate: No Hearing Date: August 4, 2014 Consultant: Jolie Onodera This bill meets the criteria for referral to the Suspense File. Bill Summary: AB 2724 would require a court to issue and file a certificate with the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and request that a hold on a defendant's driver's license be lifted if an agreement has been signed to pay a fine in installments, or an agreement has been signed to perform community service in lieu of paying the fine. This bill would provide that the ability to pay a fine is not a prerequisite to filing a request with the court to vacate a civil assessment, as specified. Fiscal Impact: Potentially major ongoing net reduction in fine, fee, and surcharge revenue to the courts (General Fund*) and various other local and state funds (General Fund, Special**) in the millions of dollars to the extent a portion of court-ordered debt takes longer to collect or is not ultimately collected, either through non-payment or satisfaction of debt through community service. One percent of annual revenues from delinquent court-ordered debt collections would equate to $6.7 million. Potentially significant ongoing loss of civil assessment revenue to the courts (General Fund*) and counties through increased requests to vacate assessments and/or underlying charges without payment. One percent of annual assessment revenues would equate to $1.4 million. Net increase in ongoing court workload and costs (General Fund*) to issue certificates for signed agreements, collect installment payments, and request removal of drivers' license holds. DMV data indicates over 520,000 licenses were suspended in 2013, with about 11,000 licenses reinstated due to fines being paid in full. As the likelihood of collection on delinquent court-ordered debt declines as the account ages, there could be some degree of offsetting AB 2724 (Bradford) Page 1 administrative cost savings for those accounts that would not have been collected upon. Minor ongoing costs (Special***) to DMV to process additional requests to lift license suspensions. To the extent the provisions of this bill enable persons to retain employment and remain in compliance with various program requirements (such as CalWORKs), potential near-term increase in program costs due to fewer sanctions, with potential future cost savings to the extent extended dependence on public assistance is reduced. *Trial Court Trust Fund **DNA Identification Fund, State Penalty Fund, Victim Witness Assistance Fund, Corrections Training Fund, among others. ***Motor Vehicle Account Background: Under existing law, when a person fails, after notice and without good cause, to appear in court for any proceeding, or fails to pay any portion of a fine for an infraction, misdemeanor, or felony, or fails to pay a bail installment, the court may impose an additional civil assessment of up to $300. (Penal Code (PC) § 1214.1(a).) Existing law provides that the assessment will not become effective until at least 10 calendar days after the court mails a warning notice to the defendant, as specified. Under existing, law, the court is required to vacate the assessment if the defendant appears within the time specified in the notice and shows good cause for the failure to appear, or the failure to pay a fine or bail installment. (PC § 1214.1(b).) While not specifically stated in statue, it has been said that in practice, some courts prohibit a person from appearing before a judge to request the waiver of an assessment that was imposed because a person failed to appear until he or she has paid the full assessment, even if the failure to appear was because he or she did not receive the initial notice. Under such a circumstance, to the extent a person cannot afford to pay the assessment, he or she cannot contest any additional assessment or the original fine. Under existing law, willful failure to pay a fine in full within the time authorized by the court may lead to suspension of an individual's driver's license until the fine is repaid, which can last for an extended period of time. This bill establishes AB 2724 (Bradford) Page 2 processes for a person to appear before the court to challenge the fines and assessments, and provides for a process to remove a hold on a defendant's driver's license upon specified agreements being signed. Proposed Law: This bill does the following: Provides that the ability to post bail or pay the civil assessment shall not be a prerequisite to filing a request that the court vacate the assessment. Imposition or collection of a civil assessment shall not preclude a defendant from scheduling a court hearing on the underlying charge. Provides that if an agreement is signed to pay an outstanding fine in installments, or an agreement is signed to perform community service in lieu of the fine, as specified, the court shall issue and file with the DMV a certificate showing that the fine has been satisfied or that an agreement has been signed, and request that the license hold be lifted. For fines that are paid in full, in addition to issuing and filing a certificate of full payment with DMV, requires the court to request that the license hold be lifted (current law only requires the court to issue a certificate). Provides that the court shall not require the payment of bail, the fine, or a civil assessment before the person requests that the court vacate a civil assessment, as specified. Prior Legislation: SB 366 (Wright) 2013 would make numerous changes in the Vehicle Code and Penal Code regarding provisions the court must take into consideration when considering a person's ability to pay a fine or civil assessment. This bill was held on the Suspense File of this Committee. Staff Comments: This bill requires the court to issue a certificate and request to DMV that a driver's license suspension be lifted upon an agreement being signed indicating a fine will be paid in installments, or that an agreement has been signed to perform community service in lieu of the fine. Under existing law courts are only required to notify the DMV when the fine has been paid in full. This provision will require the courts to adopt new procedures and undertake additional notifications to the DMV, coordinate signed agreements, and AB 2724 (Bradford) Page 3 increase collection and administrative activities associated with payment installment and community service plans. DMV data indicates over 520,000 licenses were suspended in 2013, with about 11,000 licenses reinstated due to fines being paid in full. To the extent even 10 percent of annual suspensions sign agreements and request removal of the license suspension, the courts would be required to issue over 52,000 certificates and requests to DMV to lift suspensions, as well as work with defendants to facilitate agreements. The ability to request a driver's license suspension to be lifted at the inception of a signed agreement will likely result in a significantly greater number of individuals petitioning the courts in order to secured signed agreements for payment installment plans or the performance of community service in lieu of payment of the fine. To the extent some portion of the 11,000 persons annually who would have otherwise paid their fines in full opt to initiate installment plans, there would be an ongoing delay and reduction in fine revenues collected over time. Additionally, for some portion of the 520,000 persons who would have otherwise paid their fines gradually but opt to secure an agreement to perform community service, would also result in a reduction in debt collection revenues. To the extent the ability to secure a payment installment plan results in a greater number of people paying their fines than otherwise would have occurred under existing law would offset in part the reduction in overall debt collection revenues. The DMV has indicated its automation systems do not have the capability to re-impose a license suspension for the non-payment of a fine once it has been lifted. As a result, should some percentage of the plans for installment payments or community service fail to meet the terms of their agreements, the DMV has no means of re-imposing the license suspensions. This could result in significant challenges, delays, and additional workload for the courts to seek collection of these outstanding court-ordered debts. The overall impact on the level of court-ordered debt collected due to the provisions of this bill is dependent on various factors. According to the Judicial Council Report to the Legislature on the Statewide Collection of Court-Ordered Debt: FY 2012-13, nearly $669 million in delinquent court-ordered debt AB 2724 (Bradford) Page 4 was collected statewide. To the extent once percent of annual collections are impacted by the provisions of this bill would result in a reduction of $6.7 million, distributed between various state and local funds including but not limited to the General Fund, Trial Court Trust Fund, DNA Identification Fund, State Penalty Fund, Victim Witness Assistance Fund, and the Corrections Training Fund. To the extent the provisions of this bill enable individuals to successfully secure and retain employment and remain in compliance with various program requirements, there could be near-term increases in public assistance program costs due to fewer sanctions, with potential future cost savings to the extent extended dependence on public assistance programs is reduced.