October 3, 2018

Amendment 5 Would Impede Reform of the Court Fee System

Florida’s court system receives a substantial portion of its budget from obligatory fees, fines, costs and restitutions the courts impose on persons accused or convicted of crimes, also known as “legal financial obligations.” These monetary penalties have proven to disproportionately impact low-income defendants due to their regressive nature. In Florida, these user fees are so pervasive and continuously increasing that the state system is commonly referred to as “cash register justice.”

On November 6, Florida voters will decide on Amendment 5, which would make it nearly impossible to reverse these unfair practices that have contributedto significant growth in Florida’s jail population. The measure would require a two-thirds (supermajority) vote of the state Legislature to approve any new state revenue, taxes and fees, or to eliminate tax incentives, loopholes and other such expenditures.  

Florida currently has the wrong priorities, giving special tax breaks to big corporations while relying on a system of regressive fees and fines to generate revenue for our courts. Amendment 5 locks in these failed priorities before the state has a chance to recover from deep cuts following the Great Recession and a supermajority requirement would likely require huge funding cuts in the wake of another fiscal crisis. Amendment 5 would unnecessarily restrict investments in Florida’s future.

The Court System Has Increasingly Depended on Court Fees

Florida’s judiciary system receives its revenue from federal and state grants, and legal financial obligations —fees, fines, costs and restitutions — collected by each county’s Clerk of Courts. In 2016, total revenue for all of Florida’s courts was roughly $772 million, with county court fees accounting for 94 percent of this revenue (see Figure 1).

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