Legislation was passed Thursday in Tennessee’s House that expands and defines the methods local court officials may use to collect criminal fines. The bill was sponsored by Rep. Tilman Goins, R-Morristown, and Sen. Steve Southerland, R-Morristown, with Rep. Vince Dean, R-East Ridge, as co-sponsor.
“Under this legislation, court clerks will have the authority they need to enforce court rulings and close loopholes in our legal system,” said Rep. Dean. “The bill is greatly needed in our counties where thousands of dollars of fines have been neglected.”
The bill enables the criminal court clerk, general sessions court clerk, and district attorney to collect fines 6-months after a defendant’s conviction, if it is clear the defendant is able to pay the fine. Under the new law, officials may use either an outside collection agency or in-house collection procedure. The new legislation also allows court clerks to keep up to 50 percent of fines to cover collection costs and civil costs.
Rep. Goins indicated the expansion of the clerks’ abilities to collect fines will ultimately benefit Tennessee taxpayers, saying, "These fines and fees were assessed against these people for a reason, and I feel strongly that our court system should be paid by those who are using it.”
Both the House and Senate approved the bill with a unanimous vote. The bill is now headed to Governor Haslam’s desk to be signed into law.
“This bill is overdue,” said Rep. Dean. “It’s time that our county clerks were given the tools needed to follow up on our judges’ orders and collect those fines that have been unpaid for years.”
Rep. Dean is seeking the Republican nomination for Criminal Court Clerk in Hamilton County where the current Criminal Court Clerk Gwen Tidwell recently hired an outside firm to collect $50 million of uncollected fines.
The primary election for Hamilton County Criminal Court Clerk is May 6, and early voting begins on April 16. The general election is Aug. 7.