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Lawmakers take aim at court fees, surcharges in New York: Look to end cycle of debt

State and federal lawmakers say it’s time for an end to excessive court fees. In fact, they are calling for an end to them entirely. 

If you receive a ticket, or appear in court — there’s a fee attached. The fee is viewed as a source of revenue that hurts low-income families and perpetuates a cycle of debt and incarceration.

The fees are also quite significant.

“Mandatory and excessive court fees are the ugly face of a justice system that offers one standard for the wealthy and another for the poor,” said Manhattan Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou, the sponsor of the bill. “This is a system designed to criminalize poverty. To marginalize New Yorkers who can’t pay the arbitrary revenue-generating court fees baked into every step in our state’s legal process. New Yorkers deserve a justice system that works fairly for all — not just those who can afford to pay its endless surcharges.”

Last year California approved a measure ending court fines and surcharges. Booking fines, parole and probation fees, and more than 20 others were all banned. That law also forgave around $16 billion in court debt — something that could receive pushback in New York.

Last week Governor Kathy Hochul signed an extensive measure overhauling parole laws. That measure doesn’t take full effect until next year, but the hope is that more will be done to cut down on fines and surcharges, too.

A simple example of the court fees plays out when someone gets a ticket for a simple traffic violation: The violation might cost $70 to $100, but then with surcharges and fees the total due is over $200. In fact, some surcharges in Upstate are nearly $100.