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Bill to end debtor’s prisons heads to Hickenlooper’s desk

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DENVER -- A bill aimed at ending the practice of keeping poor people in jail simply because they can't pay their fines is on its way to Gov. John Hickenlooper's desk.

House Bill 1061 cleared the Senate Wednesday on a 34-1 vote.

If the measure is signed into law, defendants will soon have to be instructed that if they're unable to pay a fine, they have to contact the court for a hearing to explain why they can't pay, and possibly arrange a payment plan.

"The ACLU of Colorado commends the state legislature, especially Representative Joe Salazar and Senator Lucia Guzman, for putting an end to the unconstitutional, inefficient, and inhumane practice of jailing people who are too poor to pay fines," said Denise Maes, the executive director of Colorado's branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, the group behind the legislation.

"Colorado’s lawmakers have overwhelmingly agreed that our judicial system, which prides itself on equal justice for all, cannot maintain a structure in which people with means pay their fines and move on with their lives, while the poor go to jail."The legislation, which was unanimously approved by the House earlier this month, follows an in-depth investigation by the ACLU of Colorado that found that many Colorado cities and some county courts order the arrest and imprisonment of poor persons who miss payments of fines and court fees without a process to determine whether a person has the ability to pay, as the U.S. Supreme Court has required.

The bill dictates that municipal courts will be prohibited from jailing people who don't have the means to pay a fine.

Lawmakers substantially amended the proposal in response to concerns from local governments, and gave the courts greater ability to dictate payment plans.

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