October 4, 2018

Amendment 5 Would Block Reform of Florida's Regressive Court Fee System

Florida’s over-reliance on court fees and fines would continue if state lawmakers are unable to raise other revenue

LAKE MARY, FLFlorida has increased its dependence on court fees over the past few decades, a problem that would likely be exacerbated by passage of Amendment 5, according to the latest policy brief from the Florida Policy Institute.

On November 6, voters in Florida will decide on a constitutional amendment that would require a two-thirds (supermajority) vote of the state Legislature to raise state revenue, taxes and fees or eliminate tax breaks and loopholes.

The brief states that Amendment 5 would all but cement court fees, as raising other revenue to supplant legal financial obligations would be extremely difficult.

Florida’s court system receives a large portion of its budget from obligatory fees, fines, costs and restitutions (“legal financial obligations”) that the courts impose on persons accused or convicted of crimes. The Institute notes that in 2016, Florida’s courts collected about $772 million, with county court fees accounting for 94 percent of this revenue. Court fees are regressive, as a defendant’s personal income is not considered. Furthermore, since Florida incarcerates African-Americans and Hispanics at a higher rate than their white counterparts, these groups are disproportionately affected.

“Amendment 5 would make it very difficult to raise revenue so that Florida’s court system could rely less on regressive fines and fees,” said Sadaf Knight, interim co-executive director of the Florida Policy Institute. “The inequities in our legal system would continue; low-income defendants and people of color would continue to carry the fiscal burden while wealthy special interests would continue receiving huge tax breaks.”

“Court fees and fines disproportionately impact low-income communities and keep people locked up solely because they don’t have the ability to pay. By destabilizing those already struggling to make ends meet, these policies make our communities less safe,” said Scott McCoy, senior policy counsel for the Southern Poverty Law Center. “There are better ways to raise revenue to fund important programs like public education and disaster relief than on the backs of the poor. Amendment 5, however, would tie the hands of our state legislature, making it more difficult to increase revenue. Amendment 5 would be detrimental to Florida’s economy and its future.”

“Florida Cares opposes Amendment 5. We are advocates for 97,000 Florida citizens who are incarcerated, along with hundreds of thousands of families struggling with low wages who are stuck paying exorbitant fees and fines, often as a result of nothing other than being too poor to fight in the first place,” said Denise Rock, president of Florida Cares Charity Corp. “Amendment 5 serves to put even more of the court costs on Florida’s people. Let our legislators cover these expenses in the budget.”

The Florida Policy Institute’s mission is to advance state policies and budgets that improve the economic mobility and quality of life for all Floridians.

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