Florida Lawmakers Introduce House & Senate Bills to Eliminate Inefficient, Uncollectible Fees Charged to Kids

Florida Looks to Follow Lead of Texas & Louisiana, Which Enacted Similar Reform in 2021

Tallahassee – This week, a bipartisan group of Florida lawmakers filed the Debt Free Justice for Children Act in the Florida House and Senate, which would eliminate costly court fees charged to children. The proposal (HB 257 and SB 428) will not impact a judge’s ability to order victim restitution, community service, or non-monetary conditions and sanctions.

Fees are ineffective and costly to administer, and are difficult to collect. In 2019, only 11% of the $5.1 million dollars that Florida assessed against youth was collected — but the financial and emotional cost to families was enormous.

“Parents are often forced to make an impossible choice: put food on the table or pay down court debt,” said Senate Democratic Leader Lauren Book.

Fees also increase the likelihood that youth will face extended or repeated involvement in the juvenile and criminal justice systems. Young people who owe court debts have higher recidivism rates, stay on probation longer, are unable to expunge records, obtain driver’s licenses, or participate in job corps programs.

“The impact of court debt lasts into adulthood and significantly decreases a young person’s prospect for achieving his or her potential and contributing to Florida’s economy,” said State Representative Vance Aloupis (R).

In 2021, Texas, Louisiana, and several other U.S. states passed reforms to end fees assessed to juveniles and their families.

“This bipartisan legislation seeks to make common-sense criminal justice reforms for the Florida juvenile court system,” said State Representative Nicholas X. Duran (D), a lead sponsor of this legislation in the Florida House.  “The provisions would eliminate court costs and fees on juveniles and young adults and unburden their attempts to become productive members of the community.”

The Debt Free Justice For Children Act is supported by Americans for Prosperity-Florida, Catalyst Miami, Fines and Fees Justice Center, Florida Juvenile Justice Association, Florida Policy Institute, Florida Rising, Juvenile Law Center, the Players Coalition, and many others.

The following national organizations have also advocated for ending fees imposed on youth: National Conference of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, the American Probation and Parole Association, Fair and Just Prosecution, Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration, and Youth Correctional Leaders for Justice.

Resources:

Full Bill Text: Debt Free Justice for Children Act (HB257/SB428)

Bill Summary and Explainer: Debt Free Justice for Children Act (HB257/SB428)

Issue and Reform Explainer: Debt Free Justice for Children Act (HB257/SB428) 

Frequently Asked Questions: Debt Free Justice for Children Act (HB257/SB428)