TRENTON – New Jersey has abolished its remaining fines and fees levied in juvenile court and will soon erase any outstanding debts children and their families may have accumulated from those convictions.

Gov. Phil Murphy last week signed S3319, part of the typical lame-duck session surge of new and unfinished legislation. In this case the bill had been passed the Senate in June – and was actually the sequel to a 2020 law that eliminated some financial penalties on juveniles.

“This bill is a crucial continuation of the work that the Legislature has done over the last several years to equalize and rationalize our youth justice system in the state,” said Laura Cohen, a professor at Rutgers Law School who teaches a clinic representing youth in the juvenile system.

Cohen said little if any money is collected from the fines and that the costs of trying to collect might exceed the revenue.

“It is important for families in New Jersey. It’s important for youth in New Jersey. It’s important for economic justice,” Cohen said.

A multistate movement

Lindsey Smith, debt-free justice staff attorney for the Juvenile Law Center, said 13 other states have also passed bills eliminating juvenile-court fines and fees.

“These fees cause economic harm,” Smith said. “They’re collected via civil judgment imposed on children and families. That makes it a lot harder for them to put in rental applications, to get jobs, to get students loans – these basic, key milestones for young people.”

The bill eliminates a Drug Enforcement and Demand Reduction penalty, the costs for a serological test for HIV/AIDS in some cases, the costs of a court-directed remedial education or counseling program, a civil penalty of at least $2,000 for responding to a false public alarm, a $25 forensic laboratory fee and a $15 Law Enforcement Officers Training and Equipment Fund fee

Effective in about 10 months, any unpaid outstanding balances of the monetary penalties, including civil judgments and warrants, will be dismissed.

“Eliminating these fees will contribute towards breaking the cycle of poverty that often stems from historically biased institutions,” Murphy said in a statement upon signing the bill. “The imposition of fines and fees on justice-involved youth often falls disproportionately on minority and low-income families.”

'Face the consequences'

Assemblyman Jay Webber, R-Morris, said the fines aren’t extraordinary and shouldn’t have been lifted.

“There are consequences to people’s actions, and it’s I think frankly good for the youth of New Jersey to learn that sooner rather than later,” Webber said.

Webber said that if someone has to get a job to pay those fines to the juvenile court or reimburse their families for covering those costs, “that might be one of the best rehabilitation services we can provide.”

“They need to step up and face the consequences for their actions, satisfy them and move on,” Webber said. “And that’s how our society works.”

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Here’s how the vote went. Names of Democrats are shaded blue, Republicans red.

Senate, 28-9 on June 30, 2021

Yes: Bateman, Beach, Brown, Codey, Corrado, Cruz-Perez, Cryan, Cunningham, Diegnan, Gill, Gopal, Greenstein, Lagana, O'Scanlon, Pou, Rice, Ruiz, Sacco, Sarlo, Scutari, Singer, Singleton, Smith, Stack, Sweeney, Turner, Vitale, Weinberg

No: Bucco, Connors, Doherty, Holzapfel, Kean, Oroho, Pennacchio, Testa, Thompson

Not voting: Addiego, Madden, Schepisi

Assembly, 50-21 on Dec. 20, 2021

Yes: Armato, Benson, Burzichelli, Carter, Chaparro, Chiaravalloti, Conaway, Coughlin, Danielsen, DeAngelo, DeFuccio, Downey, Egan, Freiman, Greenwald, Holley, Houghtaling, Jasey, Jimenez, Johnson, Karabinchak, Kennedy, Lampitt, Lopez, Mazzeo, McKeon, McKnight, Mejia, Moen, Moriarty, Mosquera, Mukherji, Murphy, Peters, Pintor Marin, Reynolds-Jackson, Schaer, Spearman, Speight, Stanfield, Stanley, Sumter, Swain, Taliaferro, Timberlake, Tucker, Tully, Vainieri Huttle, Verrelli, Wimberly

No: Auth, Bergen, Catalano, Clifton, Dancer, DeCroce, DePhillips, DiMaio, DiMaso, Dunn, Gove, McClellan, McGuckin, Peterson, Rooney, Rumpf, Scharfenberger, Simonsen, Thomson, Webber, Wirths

Not voting: Bramnick, Calabrese, Caputo, Giblin, Kean, Munoz, Quijano, Space, Zwicker

Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com.

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