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Lawmakers urge Cuomo to drop some fees, fines during pandemic

ALBANY – State lawmakers are urging the Cuomo administration to halt collection of various fees and fines – including traffic infractions, parking violations and criminal court fines – that they say are hitting lower-income New Yorkers especially hard during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Throughout the crisis, continued collection and enforcement of fines, fees and court debt, disproportionately penalize our most vulnerable communities, including essential workers who need our support now more than ever," the lawmakers wrote to Cuomo on Friday.

The chief authors of the letter are State Sen. Tim Kennedy, a Buffalo Democrat, and Assemblywoman Pamela Hunter, a Syracuse Democrat. A number of other lawmakers are signing onto the letter.

The issue is also being pressed by a private advocacy group, the Manhattan-based Fines and Fees Justice Center, which has been successful in getting other states to drop or scale back various fines and fees during the Covid-19 crisis. The group seeks to lower court and other fees that it says unfairly hit people in low-income areas, especially minorities.

“Even before Covid-19, New York was overdue for fines and fees reform, but now that more people are struggling to pay for their basic necessities and can be incarcerated for nonpayment, the need is more urgent than ever,” said Katie Adamides, the group’s New York State director.

The state Senate this year approved legislation to address various fine and fee levels; the measure died in the Assembly.

In their letter to Cuomo, the lawmakers – who also include Brooklyn State Sen. Julia Salazar and Manhattan Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou, both Democrats – noted that Delaware, Maine and Oregon are among the states that have taken Covid-related moves to suspend collection of delinquent traffic debt, court debts and other fees.

“With timely action, New York can respond even more robustly to mitigate the negative financial and health consequences to families by relieving them of fines, fees, court debt and destructive enforcement practices associated with these costs," the lawmakers wrote Cuomo. They sent a copy of the letter to New York Court of Appeals Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, who has broad powers over the state’s court system.

The lawmakers are asking Cuomo to immediately:

  • Stop detaining or jailing people for not paying various court-related fines, and to release those currently being held for such nonpayments.
  • End the suspension of driver’s licenses of people who have not paid traffic tickets or not made a court appearance to contest a ticket. Excluded would be suspension of people involved in traffic infractions that raise points on a license or certain safety-related matters, such as driving under the influence of alcohol.
  • Halt collection of criminal court fees and surcharges, parole and probation fees, and various late fees on criminal and traffic fines.
  • "Order local law enforcement to stop routinely citing people for parking and other minor violations in cases where they pose little or no threat to public safety.”

“We urge you to use your executive power to immediately cease enforcement of financial punishments that unnecessarily expose New Yorkers to COVID-19 and that deprive them of urgently needed funds during this crisis," the lawmakers wrote Cuomo.

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