March 11, 2021

The Consequences of a Broken Revenue System: Relying on Fines and Fees is Harming Florida’s Clerks of Courts

This post was last updated on December 8, 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.

Executive Summary 

The collection of court fines and fees, which fluctuates with economic disruptions, natural disasters, and policy changes at other state agencies, is an unstable revenue source for Florida’s clerks of courts. Furthermore, the state’s use of driver’s license suspension as a compliance tool has created barriers to economic mobility and stable employment for Floridians with low income.   

Florida Policy Institute (FPI) analyzed the annual budgets of Florida’s clerks of courts and county-level data on both driver’s license suspensions and fines and fees collections, and found that:

  • Revenue from fines and fees has been on a downward trend for the past decade, particularly between (CFY) 2013-14 and CFY 2017-18, when clerks’ budgets saw a $63 million cut.
  • Fines and fees from traffic citations are the largest revenue stream for the clerks of courts, and a large portion of criminal case expenditures are funded through traffic collections and filing costs. 
  • Driver’s license suspension is an ineffective method of enforcement, with the latest data showing an only 20 percent collections rate statewide. Furthermore, driver’s license suspension disproportionately impacts Black and Brown communities.

The report recommends implementing long-term revenue-raising solutions, such as closing corporate tax loopholes and modernizing enforcement of online sales tax collection, to provide alternative sources of revenue to fund clerks of courts’ budgets; FPI also recommends eliminating driver’s license suspension as an enforcement tool and standardizing payment plan options, which vary greatly across counties.

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