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Hawkins clerk lobbying for proposal that would remove limit on county's delinquent fine revenue

March 10th, 2014 10:40 pm by Jeff Bobo

Hawkins clerk lobbying for proposal that would remove limit on county's delinquent fine revenue

SARAH DAVIS

ROGERSVILLE — Hawkins County Clerk of Courts Sarah Davis said a proposed law aimed at sending more delinquent criminal fine revenue back to Tennessee counties could benefit Hawkins County to the tune of about $100,000 per year.

Last week Davis joined Hamblen County Clerk of Courts Teresa West in Nashville to lobby the House Civil Justice Subcommittee in favor of a new law sponsored by Rep. Tilman Goins, R-Morristown.

Goins’ House Bill 1401 would eliminate limits on the amount of delinquent criminal fine revenue that counties with in-house collection programs can retain.

As a deputy clerk, prior to being elected clerk of courts, Davis created Hawkins County’s delinquent, unpaid criminal fine collection program in 2008.

In 2009, the program generated $230,000 in additional revenue which was deposited into the Hawkins County general fund.

Tennessee Code Annotated 40-24-105 states that the clerk may retain up to 50 percent of fines, cost, and litigation taxes that are more than six months delinquent to “defray the cost of collection.”

Two years ago, the Tennessee Attorney General’s Office issued an opinion stating that the “cost of collection” should strictly be held to the cost of a clerk’s collection program.

“The county was keeping 50 percent of everything until two years ago,” Davis said. “They made me sit down and figure out how much it costs to have an in-house collection agency, which was something like $140,000. Whereas before I was keeping 50 percent of all delinquent fines, when the attorney general’s opinion was issued, after I reached $140,000 I had to send it all to the state. Last year that cost Hawkins County about $100,000.”

Davis added, “That money doesn’t come to my office. It goes into the general fund. It benefits all Hawkins County taxpayers.”

House Bill 1401 filed by Goins would reverse the Attorney General’s opinion and once again give clerks across the state the ability to collect 50 percent of delinquent and unpaid fines for their respective counties without limit.

The bill removes “to defray the cost of collection” from the code.

“Clerks Sarah Davis and Teresa West have found a way to more efficiently collect fines, cost and restitution, and they should be commended,” Goins said. “These fines and fees were assessed against these defendants for a reason, and I feel strongly that our court system should be paid by those who are using it.”

House Bill 1401 was approved by the House Civil Justice Committee and is expected to be heard by the entire House of Representatives in late March.

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