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TACIR approves report on study of court fees

Friday, January 27, 2017 | 03:19pm

The Commission has concluded its report, Tennessee’s Court Fees and Taxes:  Funding the Courts Fairly, which responded to a request from Senator Jon Lundberg, former Chair of the House Civil Justice Committee to study court fees.  The report says that civil case costs are generally less than criminal case costs, but in both types of cases, costs accumulate and can become overwhelming, preventing people from filing civil cases or creating large amounts of debt in both civil and criminal cases.  It suggests that Tennessee could, as is done in Louisiana, provide more thorough analysis of court costs, how they accumulate, and related earmarks through the use of a judicial committee that reviews and makes recommendations on bills proposing to add or increase court costs.

The report also discusses Tennessee’s law that requires people’s driver’s licenses to be revoked if they have not paid all their criminal court costs within one year after the disposition of the case and do not comply with their payment plans.  Research has shown this can be devastating to persons with low incomes.  The passage of Public Chapter 748, Acts of 2016, helped address the problem by enabling a person whose license has been suspended to get a driver’s license if they comply with a payment plan for court costs.  A person whose license is suspended for a driving offense conviction and who fails to pay a fine or cost is eligible to apply for a restricted license allowing travel to and from work.  The law applies statewide.  To address further concerns about the driver’s license revocation law, the report says the recommended judicial committee could also examine the effect required revocations have on people and their ability to pay these taxes and fees.

The report also includes information about efforts to collect unpaid court costs.  To help determine the scope of the issue and address a lack of reliable collections data, the Commission agrees with the Tennessee Fiscal Review Committee’s 2008 recommendation that the Administrative Office of the Courts be required to send an annual report of uncollected criminal case assessments from each county to the Committee.