By Kevin Deutsch
A bipartisan group of Florida lawmakers, including Senate Democratic Leader Lauren Book, introduced legislation this week to eliminate expensive court fees charged to minors.
Currently, Florida charges children and their families a wide range of fees and costs for their involvement in the criminal justice system, regardless of their guilt, innocence, or ability to pay.
Among the costs imposed on children: court administration costs, public defender costs, medical costs, probation supervision costs, detention costs and various surcharges.
The Debt Free Justice for Children Act, introduced in the Florida House and Senate (HB 257 and SB 428), would eliminate all fees and costs currently imposed on children up to the age of 18 and their families. families.
The law would also rescind outstanding cost orders, write off any related debt, and restore driving privileges to those who lost them for non-payment.
The legislation would not affect a judge’s ability to order restitution for victims or community service or to impose non-monetary penalties.
âParents are often forced to make an impossible choice: put food on the table or pay off court debts,â said Book, whose district includes Coral Springs.
Lawmakers who pushed for reform said court fees increased the likelihood that children would face prolonged or repeated involvement in juvenile and criminal justice systems.
Young people with court debts have higher recidivism rates and stay on probation longer than those without court debts, lawmakers said. Lawmakers have said these children cannot clear their records, get driver’s licenses or participate in employment programs.
In 2021, Texas, Louisiana, and several other U.S. states passed reforms to end fees for minors and their families.
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