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House passes bill to create 90-day grace period for court fines

The bill originally provided for a 180-day window but the period was shortened to 90 days by amendment.

The Alabama Statehouse in Montgomery.

Alabamians leaving prison could soon have a 90-day grace period before beginning payment of court fines and fees.

The House passed a bill Tuesday that would allow for the grace period.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Jeremy Gray, D-Alabama, originally called for a 180-day window, but the bill was amended by Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark.

“I think the bill has merit, it will help people get back on their feet,” Clouse said. “But I think a 90-day period is sufficient.”

“I don’t love it,” Gray said when Clouse offered the amendment.

Rep. Napoleon Bracy, D-Prichard, said 90 days isn’t enough considering the lack of preparation for inmates to re-enter society.

“With federal inmates something like this can work a whole lot better,” Bracy said. “But the product we put out in the state is not a good product for hire. Most of our state inmates don’t have a GED, some come out without an ID … We can’t expect for people with no GED, no career tech classes, who may not have an ID when they get out to all of a sudden become marketable to compete in this job market  and have a job within 90 days to start handling their business.”

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The bill had support, and some opposition, on both sides of the aisle.

The bill specifically exempts restitution from the grace period, something Gray said came out of amendments in the House judiciary committee.

Rep. Mary Moore, D-Birmingham, said restitution is the real financial burden that formerly incarcerated individuals need time to pay.

“My problem has been, that’s what hurts them the most,” Moore said. “That’s usually a large amount of money they have to pay back. That’s what kills them. The fines and fees, their grandmommas will pay for them when they get out. We need to look at something to delay restitution or have it reviewed.”

Rep. Will Dismukes, R-Prattville, gave his full support to the bill.

“I’ve been impacted by this a couple of different times in my life,” Dismukes said. “A friend came to me that had trouble paying the fines and didn’t want to go back to jail. He’s struggled four years now getting a job. If he didn’t have somebody to help him with his fines, he’d go back to the system. I struggle with saying 180 days is too long; I think this is to help people get back on their feet.”

When asked if this bill would put an extra financial burden on the court system, Gray said  it would not, but that it was also not the right way of looking at the situation.

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“Is this system built in a way to help people or make money off people?” Gray said. “This is a nation of second chances, the American dream and all of those things. These people needed a chance. This bill is just giving people a chance to succeed in this America.”

The bill now moves to the Senate for consideration.

Jacob Holmes is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected]

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