"Board Bill" Heard by House Committee

Prison Inmate

The House Special Committee on Criminal Justice heard a bill this week that would change a practice that is rampant in the rural counties of Missouri. In these counties, people who serve jail time are charged "board bills" for room and board (around $50 a day). If the person isn't able to pay the board bill, he or she is forced to come before the judge in a "show-cause" hearing to explain why they shouldn't be put in jail. The person can then be assessed additional fees if they are not able to pay the board bill or be put back in jail if they don't show up for the hearing. This can go on for years, costing the defendant thousands of dollars.

HB 192, sponsored by Rep. Bruce DeGroot (R-Chesterfield), repeals the language from the statute that allows judges the ability to assess additional fines on a person who doesn't pay their board bill and language that allows for a show-cause hearing. The bill allows for the collection of fines through a private collection agency.

There were many supporters of the legislation who claimed the practice discriminates against the poor, essentially allowing for a debtors' prison scheme to be carried on in rural areas of the state. No one spoke in opposition to the bill. The committee took no action on the bill.

On Wednesday, the Missouri Supreme Court heard arguments in two cases relating to HB 192. Critics are referring to the cases as modern-day debtors' prisons, in which inmates too poor to pay off jail debts end up in jail again. The high court did not yet issue a ruling in either case.

February 11, 2019 - 8:17am
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