NASHVILLE - Lawmakers today gave final approval today to a bill that permits local court officials across the state to add on an additional fee if they have to use an outside collection agency to pursue unpaid criminal court fines and fees.
The House passed the bill 94-0. Senators earlier approved the bill earlier.
"What this does is it passes the cost of that on to the defendant," said Rep. Vince Dean, R-East Ridge, a co-sponsor of the legislation.
For example, if a convicted criminal defendant has a $100 fine, an outside collection agency currently keeps a percentage of that, say 20 percent, Dean said.
"They keep $20 dollars and send $80" to the Hamilton County Criminal Court Clerk's office, Dean noted.
But under the bill, the fine would rise to $120 with the county keeping $100 and an outside collection agency getting $20.
Dean is running for Hamilton County Criminal Court Clerk against Democratic incumbent Gwen Tidwell.
Last December, Hamilton County commissioners acted on a request from Tidwell to contract with two outside collection agencies to go after an estimated $50 million in outstanding fines or court costs that have built up over the past 20 years.
Many criminal defendants pay their court fees, but not all. Some flee, some go to jail -- and that's why, Tidwell said in December, the office has little chance of collecting more than one-tenth of the money.
In a news release, Dean said that "under this legislation, court clerks will have the authority they need to enforce court rulings and close loop holes in our legal system. The bill is greatly needed in our counties where thousands of dollars of fines have been neglected."
The House bill's primary sponsor was Rep. Tilman Goins, R-Morristown.