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

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Date Published: 02/09/2021 09:00 PM
SB355:v99#DOCUMENT


CALIFORNIA LEGISLATURE— 2021–2022 REGULAR SESSION

Senate Bill
No. 355


Introduced by Senator Becker

February 09, 2021


An act to amend Section 68632 of the Government Code, relating to courts, and declaring the urgency thereof, to take effect immediately.


LEGISLATIVE COUNSEL'S DIGEST


SB 355, as introduced, Becker. Court fees and costs: waiver.
(1) 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 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.
This bill would additionally require a court to grant a fee waiver to an applicant who receives benefits under the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program 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 United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for the HUD Metro Fair Market Rent Area, as specified for where the applicant is filing. The bill would require the Judicial Council to annually publish a table establishing the threshold monthly household income for this income-based fee waiver. The bill would also make legislative findings in support of, and technical changes to, these provisions.
(2) This bill would declare that it is to take effect immediately as an urgency statute.
Vote: 2/3   Appropriation: NO   Fiscal Committee: YES   Local Program: NO  

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).
(8) Women, Infants and Children (WIC) (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 and Insurance Code).

(b)An applicant whose monthly income is 125 percent or less of the current poverty guidelines updated periodically in the Federal Register by the United States Department of Health and Human Services under the authority of paragraph (2) of Section 9902 of Title 42 of the United States Code.

(b) (1) An applicant whose monthly income is at or below 80 percent of the Unadjusted Area Median Income as set by United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for the HUD Metro Fair Market Rent Area in the county, or 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.
(2) The Judicial Council shall annually publish a table establishing the threshold monthly household income for a fee waiver pursuant to paragraph (1) that is adjusted for 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) 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).

SEC. 3.

 This act is an urgency statute necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health, or safety within the meaning of Article IV of the California Constitution and shall go into immediate effect. The facts constituting the necessity are:
The cost of living in California and the cost of filing court actions has steadily increased, and the eligibility threshold to automatically grant fee waivers for court filing costs has not kept pace with these increased costs for the several years prior to the COVID-19 global pandemic. The COVID-19 global pandemic has put low-income Californians at risk of unemployment, wage theft, debt, and loss of their homes. Low-income Californians need to efficiently and timely access justice by filing and responding to court actions without the added financial burden of paying costly filing fees that will impact their economic security and ability to pay for necessary costs of living. Therefore, it is necessary for this act to take effect immediately.