TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — The fees required to pay for reinstatement of a suspended driver license in Florida are about to be lowered, as a new state law takes effect on Friday. The law will make it more affordable to pay off court fees and reinstate licenses to drive.
Beginning July 1, House Bill 397, among the laws approved by the governor, makes changes to how court clerks charge residents for fines and other penalties. Upfront payments in full will no longer be the only method to pay off fees for traffic violations and other citations.
Court fees that go unpaid can build up, leading to driver licenses being suspended. According to data from the Fines and Fees Justice Center, 72% of suspended licenses in Florida were due to unpaid fines and fees. Only 4% of suspended licenses were due to dangerous driving or public safety issues.
Starting Friday, the current system for making monthly payments will be adjusted, allowing the clerk to charge someone 2% of their annual net income divided by 12, or $25, as a down payment to establish a payment plan for those penalties and fees. An individual’s annual net income is how much they make after taxes.
Additionally, the new law says, “Any amount required by the clerk as down payment to initially establish a payment plan shall be the lesser of 10% of the total owed or $100.” However, processing fees and service charges to make those payments are not included in the price cap.
HB 397 also requires the Florida Legislature to consider or make a recommendation on the need for additional funding, separately.
The calculation formula enumerated in the new law describes the calculation as being 2% of annual net income, divided by 12, or capped at $25.
Court clerks will also be able to make yearly budget requests, as well as request funds “on a quarterly basis” to pay for reimbursement when petitions filed by the clerk cost $40 per petition or order, under certain state statutes. There is also a provision allowing clerks to determine a resident’s indigent status, meaning level of poverty.
For those determined to be indigent, state law defines such status as not in ownership of or has equity in “any intangible or tangible personal property or real property or the expectancy of an interest in any such property having a net equity value of $2,500 or more, excluding the value of the person’s homestead and one vehicle having a net value not exceeding $5,000.”
Those declared indigent may not be charged court fees, under state law, according to a legislative analysis of HB 397. Additionally, pertaining to payment plans, the analysis reads:
“Court costs, fees, and other fines related to a court disposition are enforced by court order and
collected by the clerks of court. A person may apply to the clerk of court to enter into a payment plan if
that person is ‘indigent,’ which means he or she:
- Has an income equal to or below 200 percent of the federal poverty guidelines; or
- Is receiving:
o Temporary Assistance for Needy Families-Cash Assistance;
o Poverty-related veterans’ benefits; or
o Supplemental Security Income
A monthly payment that does not exceed 2% of an indigent person’s average monthly pay is presumed to correspond to the indigent person’s ability to pay.”
County clerks of court are required to charge a fee of up to $5 per month for receiving or disbursing any or all partial payments, with only restitution payments not subject to those fees, according to the legislative analysis.
The Florida Court Clerks and Comptrollers thanked legislators and the governor for writing and enacting HB 397, saying it helped serve constituents and served as support for the court system.