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Bail money once returned to convicted criminals would automatically be applied to what they owe in court costs and fines under a bill approved by the Pennsylvania House on Wednesday.

"It would be another tool to add to our tool kit," said Don O'Shell, clerk of courts for York County. "This bill makes it easier for us."

For years county officials have dealt with difficulties in collecting restitution, court costs, fines and fees.

As of Aug. 11, $119 million was owed in York County, O'Shell said, noting that figure likely increased to $121 million between then and now.

"The balance never goes down," he said. "It only grows."

The bill: Under the bill sponsored by Rep. Sheryl Delozier, R-Cumberland County, prosecutors also would be able to petition the courts to have bail money applied to costs if someone else, such as a defendant's family member, posts the bail.

Defendants who post their own bail can avoid losing the money if they can prove to the court that applying the money to outstanding balances would create a hardship.

At any given time, there is about $1 million in bail money being held in the county, O'Shell said.

Prosecutors can currently petition the courts to keep bail money put up by defendants, he said, adding the bill would streamline the process.

That tactic was used a few times, including in a 2014 DUI case in which the $1,000 bail was applied to the defendant's outstanding balance, O'Shell said.

The vote: Rep Mike Regan, R-Dillsburg, who voted for the bill on the floor and in the House Judiciary Committee, said the measure helps hold criminals accountable.

"I just think that's only fair," he said. "They first have to pay their debts to the courts."

All York County representatives approved the measure as it passed the House 154-39. All the "no" votes came from Democrats. The bill is now in the Senate.

In June, representatives sent another measure, House Bill 1089, to the Senate. That bill would require all county and state prisons to dock inmates' prison-employment wages by 25 percent and to deduct 50 percent from all deposits made to an inmate's personal commissary account.

— Reach Greg Gross at ggross@yorkdispatch.com.

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