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Indigent offenders to get break on some legal costs

UPDATED: Tue., March 27, 2018, 2:43 p.m.

OLYMPIA – Gov. Jay Inslee congratulates Rep. Jeff Holy, R-Cheney, the sponsor of a bill that reforms the way legal financial obligations are handled by Washington courts. Inslee signed the bill into law Tuesday. (Jim Camden / The Spokesman-Review)
OLYMPIA – Gov. Jay Inslee congratulates Rep. Jeff Holy, R-Cheney, the sponsor of a bill that reforms the way legal financial obligations are handled by Washington courts. Inslee signed the bill into law Tuesday. (Jim Camden / The Spokesman-Review)

OLYMPIA – Indigent people can be spared court fees that result from a criminal conviction and can’t be sanctioned for their inability to pay restitution and fines, under a bill signed Tuesday.

Starting July 1, certain court costs known as legal financial obligations or LFOs, will be restructured in Washington, making restitution to victims the first priority. Court costs, fines and other assessments are to be paid after all restitution is completed.

The courts also can waive interest, currently at 12 percent, and set up a payment plan for costs and fines if the offender is homeless, mentally ill or indigent, which is defined as someone at 125 percent of the poverty level.

Supporters of the new law said in legislative hearings that LFOs, with their high interest rates, create an endless financial web for poor offenders after they are released from prison, keeping some in poverty and unable to return to society.

It will remove some of the hurdles that make it difficult for some people to “get back on their feet” after incarceration, Gov. Jay Inslee said.