By
Tachana Joseph-Marc
|
October 3, 2018

Amendment 5 Would Impede Reform of the Court Fee System

This post was last updated on July 22, 2021. As new policies are announced, FPI will update this page.

As Florida’s response to COVID-19 takes front and center, concern grows for low-income families who struggle to take precautions against the spread of the virus. Although Congress has passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act to address, at least in part,  the public health crisis and economic fallout from COVID-19, many barriers continue to keep struggling families from accessing the assistance they need during the pandemic. As Florida initiates policies implementing the Act and addressing other barriers to the safety net, FPI will update this form. When available, hyperlinks are provided to agency documents or statements that provide greater detail  about the new policy.
On March 22, 2020, FPI and 44 other organizations sent a letter to Governor DeSantis, leadership in the Legislature and agency heads to urge action on 47 specific policy changes to reduce unnecessary barriers for Florida’s safety net programs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. See the letter here.

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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