Press Release: NM House Passes Bill to Stop Imposing Uncollectible Fees

New Mexico House Passes Bill Streamlining State’s Court Fee System

Bill Would Save State Money, While Protecting New Mexicans From Insurmountable Debt

Today, the New Mexico House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved HB 81, which would streamline the state’s court fee system and stop assessing people with court fees that they are unlikely to ever be able to pay.

HB 81 would ensure that courts can reduce and waive court taxes on low-income New Mexicans, while maintaining judges’ discretion to impose probation, jail, or other sanctions. The legislation was developed in cooperation with and endorsed by the New Mexico Sentencing Commission. It was also unanimously endorsed by the Courts, Corrections and Justice Interim Committee in November 2021.

“New Mexico is one step closer to ending fiscally irresponsible enforcement and collection practices that undermine public safety,” said Representative Micaela Lara Cadena, who is sponsoring HB 81. “Courts and police are there to keep us and our communities safe. Why are we using our limited public safety resources to chase uncollectible debts?”

New Mexico spends taxpayer dollars to jail people who can’t afford to pay court fees.. The state’s counties spend at least 41 cents to collect a single dollar of fine and fee revenue — 115 times more than the IRS spends to collect a dollar of income tax. Bernalillo County is actually losing money, spending at least $1.17 for every dollar of fines and fees collected. (This figure counts only in-court and jail costs; if all costs were measured — including the sizable cost to law enforcement for warrant enforcement and arrests, the cost to the MVD for processing suspended licenses, and the cost to parole and probation officers for fee and fine compliance — the figure would be even higher.)

“Fines and fees are an inefficient and unreliable source of government revenue,” said Douglas Carver, Deputy Director of the New Mexico Sentencing Commission. “HB 81 would reduce court dockets, maximize efficiency within our justice system and ensure the state is not spending more money on collection costs than it actually collects.”

“When New Mexico uses the justice system to fund the government through fees, everyone loses. Not only do our counterproductive policies waste resources and clog our courts, they cause irreparable damage to New Mexico families,” said Monica Ault, New Mexico Director of the Fines and Fees Justice Center. “Families should not have to choose between paying a fee or fine and paying for food or housing.”

Last year Governor Lujan Grisham signed the Juvenile Fines and Fees Reform Act, which ended the practice of charging fines and fees to children and their families involved in the juvenile system.

For media inquiries, contact: 

Monica Ault, New Mexico State Director

Jag Davies, Communications Director