2011 Legislative Preview: HB 1015

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See here for previous posts in this series.

Bill Name: AN ACT TO MANDATE AN ADDITIONAL FINE FOR ANY PERSON CONVICTED OF A FELONY SEX OFFENSE

Sponsors: Jon Woods (R-93), 479-200-3100, woodsforarkansas@gmail.com; Duncan Baird (R-95), 479-439-1717, bairdd@arkleg.state.ar.us; Justin Harris (R-87), 479-871-8542, Justin.Harris@arkansashouse.org; Andre Lea (R-68), 479-967-4922, andrea.lea@arkansashouse.org.

Purpose: To amend Arkansas Code Annotated § 12-12-910 by removing the “undue hardship” exception to fines levied against convicted sex offenders.  In other words, to make that fine mandatory, without regard to the convicted offender’s ability to pay.

Pros for Average Arkansans: Umm…state revenue in the amount of $250*#  of convicted offenders who would have to pay this fine but for an undue hardship.  So, not much relatively speaking.

Cons for Average Arkansans:  Like a number of the proposed bills we’ve covered so far, this one has the potential to exacerbate prison overcrowding without much upside to offset that downside.  Here’s what I mean: if you remove the “undue hardship” exception on this fine, you mandate fines on some number of convicts who cannot pay the fine.  Now, yes, courts will often work with people to set up payment plans and/or find other ways to make the payments possible.  That’s all well and good.  However, you still increase the number of people who can be convicted, placed on probation with a registration requirement, and then, because they fail to make a payment (0r simply cannot make a payment), the probation can be revoked and the convict imprisoned.

I know that the retort to this line of thinking is, “well, too bad for them…maybe they should have thought of that before they became sex offenders.”  In addition to being a particularly poor bit of sophistry, such “rebuttal” ignores the point.  You are implementing a law change that will not raise much, relatively speaking, in terms of state revenue, and will do so while creating a virtual certainty that someone who would otherwise have remained out of prison through alternative sentencing will instead wind up in prison.  One purpose of alternative sentencing is to keep people out of prison whenever possible; why undermine that for the sake of a law that might not even raise enough revenue to offset the cost to the state of incarcerating the first person who fails to pay his fine?

It is also important to note that we are only talking about a specific subset of convicts here, the title of the bill notwithstanding.  If no undue hardship would result from imposition of the fine, the court has to impose it, and the potential for revoking probation for failure to pay still exists for those people.  This law would only seek to subject people who, by the very definition of “undue hardship” could not pay the fine in the first place, to imprisonment for failure to pay that fine.  At best, it’s a bad idea; at worst, it’s a sneaky way to get people into prison after they’ve first been given probation.  Either way, it’s terrible.

Official BHR Position: Strongly oppose as bad policy.