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SB-355 Court fees and costs: waiver.(2021-2022)

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Date Published: 05/21/2021 04:00 AM
SB355:v96#DOCUMENT

Amended  IN  Senate  May 20, 2021
Amended  IN  Senate  March 17, 2021
Amended  IN  Senate  March 05, 2021

CALIFORNIA LEGISLATURE— 2021–2022 REGULAR SESSION

Senate Bill
No. 355


Introduced by Senator Becker
(Coauthor: Senator Wiener)
(Coauthor: Assembly Member Berman)

February 09, 2021


An act to amend Section Sections 68632 and 68633 of, of the Government Code, relating to courts.


LEGISLATIVE COUNSEL'S DIGEST


SB 355, as amended, Becker. Court fees and costs: waiver.
Existing law requires the court to grant a fee waiver to an applicant at any stage of the proceedings at both the appellate and trial court levels if the applicant meets specified standards of eligibility and application requirements, including a person who is receiving certain public benefits, such as Supplemental Security Income or Medi-Cal, or who has a monthly income of 125% or less of the current poverty guidelines, as specified. An initial fee waiver excuses the applicant from paying, among other fees and costs, fees for the first pleading and other court fees and costs as specified in rules adopted by the Judicial Council. Existing law requires an applicant for a fee waiver to complete, under penalty of perjury, a Judicial Council application form containing specified information.
This bill would additionally require a court to grant a fee waiver to an applicant who receives benefits under the Medi-Cal Access Program, the California Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC Program), the California Earned Income Tax Credit, or who receives unemployment compensation. The bill would instead require the court to grant a fee waiver to an applicant whose monthly income is at or below 80% of the Unadjusted Area Median Income as set by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for the HUD Metro Fair Market Rent Area, or an alternate geographic area, as specified, for which the applicant is filing. compensation, or who is qualified for and claimed the California Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) within the previous 2 calendar years. The bill would eliminate the fee waiver for a person who has a monthly income of 125% or less of the current poverty guidelines, and instead would grant a fee waiver for an applicant whose annual income is at or below the Low (80%) Income Limits for Persons in Family as stated in the Income Limits Summary published annually by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), as specified. The bill would require the Judicial Council to annually publish a table establishing the threshold monthly annual household income for this income-based fee waiver. The bill would also make legislative findings in support of, and technical changes to, these provisions.
The bill would require an applicant who is requesting a fee waiver based on the exemption for the California EITC to complete, under penalty of perjury, a Judicial Council application form and a financial statement, as specified. By expanding the crime of perjury, the bill would impose a state-mandated local program.
The California Constitution requires the state to reimburse local agencies and school districts for certain costs mandated by the state. Statutory provisions establish procedures for making that reimbursement.
This bill would provide that no reimbursement is required by this act for a specified reason.
Vote: MAJORITY   Appropriation: NO   Fiscal Committee: YES   Local Program: NOYES  

The people of the State of California do enact as follows:


SECTION 1.

 The Legislature finds and declares all of the following:
(a) An estimated 13 million, or one in three, Californians are considered low-income and rely on Medi-Cal for health coverage.
(b) United States census data shows that a majority of California tenant households qualified as “rent-burdened,” meaning that 30 percent or more of their income was used to pay rent. Over one-quarter of California tenant households were “severely rent-burdened,” meaning that they were spending over one-half of their income on rent alone.
(c) Prior to the COVID-19 global pandemic, in February 2020, California’s unemployment rate was estimated at 3.9 percent. The unemployment rate reached an unprecedented rate of 15.5 percent in April 2020 after the beginning of the COVID-19 global pandemic.
(d) On March 4, 2020, Governor Gavin Newsom proclaimed a state of emergency in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Measures necessary to contain the spread of COVID-19 have brought about widespread economic and societal disruption, placing the state in unprecedented circumstances.
(e) There are strong indications that low-income Californians will go into debt and face legal action due to their inability to pay those debts.
(f) It is the intent of the Legislature in enacting this legislation to relieve low-income Californians from bearing the cost of high filing fees to respond to or initiate court filings.

SEC. 2.

 Section 68632 of the Government Code is amended to read:

68632.
 Permission to proceed without paying court fees and costs because of an applicant’s financial condition shall be granted initially to all of the following persons:
(a) An applicant who is receiving public benefits under one or more of the following programs:
(1) Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and State Supplementary Payment (SSP) (Article 5 (commencing with Section 12200) of Chapter 3 of Part 3 of Division 9 of the Welfare and Institutions Code).
(2) California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids Act (CalWORKs) (Chapter 2 (commencing with Section 11200) of Part 3 of Division 9 of the Welfare and Institutions Code) or a federal Tribal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (Tribal TANF) grant program (Section 10553.25 of the Welfare and Institutions Code).
(3) Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) (Chapter 51 (commencing with Section 2011) of Title 7 of the United States Code) or the California Food Assistance Program (CalFresh) (Chapter 10.1 (commencing with Section 18930) of Part 6 of Division 9 of the Welfare and Institutions Code).
(4) County Relief, General Relief (GR), or General Assistance (GA) (Part 5 (commencing with Section 17000) of Division 9 of the Welfare and Institutions Code).
(5) Cash Assistance Program for Aged, Blind, and Disabled Legal Immigrants (CAPI) (Chapter 10.3 (commencing with Section 18937) of Part 6 of Division 9 of the Welfare and Institutions Code).
(6) In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) (Article 7 (commencing with Section 12300) of Chapter 3 of Part 3 of Division 9 of the Welfare and Institutions Code).
(7) Medi-Cal (Chapter 7 (commencing with Section 14000) of Part 3 of Division 9 of the Welfare and Institutions Code), including the optional targeted low-income children program pursuant to Section 14005.26 of the Welfare and Institutions Code, and the Medi-Cal Access Program (Chapter 2 (commencing with Section 15810) of Part 3.3 of Division 9 of the Welfare and Institutions Code).
(8) California Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC Program) (Article 2 (commencing with Section 123275) of Chapter 1 of Part 2 of Division 106 of the Health and Safety Code).
(9) Unemployment compensation (Chapter 5 (commencing with Section 1251) of Part 1 of Division 1 of the Unemployment Insurance Code).

(10)California Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), as defined in Section 17052 of the Revenue and Taxation Code.

(b)(1)An applicant whose monthly income is at or below 80 percent of the Unadjusted Area Median Income as set by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for the HUD Metro Fair Market Rent Area in the county, or if an area is not designated by HUD, the geographic area of the state as described in subdivision (c) of Section 50079.5 of the Health and Safety Code, in which the applicant is filing.

(b) (1) An applicant whose annual income is at or below the Low (80%) Income Limits for Persons in Family as stated in the Income Limits Summary published annually by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for the HUD Metro Fair Market Rent Area for the county that has the highest income limits in the state.
(2) The Judicial Council shall annually publish a table establishing the threshold monthly annual household income for a fee waiver pursuant to paragraph (1) that is adjusted for household family size to be used with form FW-001.
(c) An applicant who, as individually determined by the court, cannot pay court fees without using moneys that normally would pay for the common necessaries of life for the applicant and the applicant’s family. Only if a trial court finds that an applicant under this subdivision can pay a portion of court fees, or can pay court fees over a period of time, or under some other equitable arrangement, without using moneys that normally would pay for the common necessaries of life for the applicant and the applicant’s family, the court may grant a partial initial fee waiver using the notice and hearing procedures set forth in paragraph (5) of subdivision (e) of Section 68634. “Common necessaries of life,” as used in this article, shall be interpreted consistently with the use of that term in paragraph (1) of subdivision (c) of Section 706.051 of the Code of Civil Procedure, as that paragraph read prior to January 1, 2012.
(d) An applicant who is qualified for and claimed the California Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), as defined in Section 17052 of the Revenue and Taxation Code, within the previous two calendar years.

(d)

(e) A person who files a petition for appointment of a fiduciary in a guardianship or conservatorship, or files pleadings as the appointed fiduciary of a conservatee or ward, when the financial condition of the conservatee or ward meets the standards for a fee waiver pursuant to subdivision (a), (b), or (c). (c), or (d).

SEC. 3.

 Section 68633 of the Government Code is amended to read:

68633.
 (a) An applicant for an initial fee waiver under subdivision (a) of Section 68632 shall complete, under penalty of perjury, a Judicial Council application form requiring the applicant to list his or her their current street address, or another address where the court can contact the applicant, occupation, employer, and the type of public benefits that he or she the applicant is receiving. At the time the application is submitted, the applicant shall not be required to provide documents supporting receipt of public benefits, to provide evidence of identity, to submit to interviews regarding the applicant’s financial circumstances, to be physically present to file the application, or to fill out additional parts of the application form.
(b) An applicant for an initial fee waiver under subdivision (b) or (d) of Section 68632 shall complete, under penalty of perjury, both of the following:
(1) A Judicial Council application form requiring the applicant to provide his or her their current street address, or another address where the court can contact the applicant, occupation, and employer.
(2) A financial statement showing monthly or yearly income as determined under rules, and on forms, adopted by the Judicial Council. At the time the application is submitted, the applicant shall not be required to provide documents to prove income, dependents, or expenses, to provide evidence of identity, to submit to interviews regarding the applicant’s financial circumstances, to be physically present to file the application, or to fill out additional parts of the application form.
(c) An applicant for an initial fee waiver under subdivision (c) of Section 68632 shall complete, under penalty of perjury, both of the following:
(1) A Judicial Council application form requiring the applicant to provide his or her their current street address, or another address where the court can contact the applicant, occupation, and employer.
(2) A financial statement showing monthly or yearly income and expenses and a summary of assets and liabilities as determined under rules, and on forms, adopted by the Judicial Council. At the time the application is submitted, the applicant shall not be required to provide documents to prove income, dependents, or expenses, to provide evidence of identity, to submit to interviews regarding the applicant’s financial circumstances, or to be physically present to file the application.
(d) The clerk shall provide forms adopted by the Judicial Council pursuant to this article without charge to any person who requests those forms or indicates that he or she is they are unable to pay any court fees or costs. An applicant shall not be required to complete any form as part of his or her their application under this article other than those forms adopted by the Judicial Council.
(e) An applicant for an initial fee waiver shall be informed that, at a later date, the court may require proof of receipt of benefits or financial information to verify eligibility, as provided in Section 68636, and that a trial court may seek reimbursement of initially waived fees under circumstances set forth in Section 68637. This notice requirement is satisfied if the information is provided on the Judicial Council fee waiver application form.
(f) Financial information provided by an applicant shall be kept confidential by the court. No person shall have access to the application except the court, authorized court personnel, and any person authorized by the applicant. No person shall reveal any information contained in the application except as authorized by law. Any hearing regarding whether to grant or deny a fee waiver request shall be held in camera, and the court shall exclude all persons except court staff, the applicant, those present with the applicant’s consent, and any witness being examined. The fact that an applicant’s fees and costs have been initially waived and the amount of the waived fees and costs are not confidential. The Judicial Council shall adopt procedures to keep the financial information confidential and to consider a request seeking that confidential information.
(g) Counsel representing an applicant who is filing in a general jurisdiction civil case pursuant to an agreement that counsel will advance litigation costs shall indicate that agreement on the application form. The court shall set a hearing to determine whether or not the applicant is able to pay court fees without using moneys that normally would pay for the common necessaries of life. This subdivision does not apply if the applicant is represented by counsel for, or affiliated with, a qualified legal services project, as defined in Section 6213 of the Business and Professions Code.

SEC. 4.

 No reimbursement is required by this act pursuant to Section 6 of Article XIII B of the California Constitution because the only costs that may be incurred by a local agency or school district will be incurred because this act creates a new crime or infraction, eliminates a crime or infraction, or changes the penalty for a crime or infraction, within the meaning of Section 17556 of the Government Code, or changes the definition of a crime within the meaning of Section 6 of Article XIII B of the California Constitution.