Iowa’s court system is ramping up efforts to collect unpaid fees and fines. The plan was approved last year by the legislature to offset shrinking state revenues. Now, a Kansas City law firm that provides collection services has been hired to pursue debts that are at least one year past due.
Judicial Branch spokesperson Steve Davis says the state is also placing Iowans’ driver’s licenses or vehicle registration renewals “on hold” if they have overdue civil court fees. “Before it was just criminal cases,” Davis said of the new measure. “So, people who may’ve been able to renew their registration without any problems now have a hold on their registration because of (unpaid) civil court fees like small claims cases or divorces.”
The collection agency program was tested in Jasper County last month and is now expanded into 30 more counties. The law firm is authorized to tack on an additional 25 percent to the amount someone owes to cover their collection cost.
Davis expects the new efforts to recoup money will boost state, county and city revenues. “Last year, the Judicial Branch collected $163 million dollars (in court fines and fees). Most of that, about $146 million, goes to the state’s general fund and another $17 million went to city and county governments,” Davis said. Iowans currently owe more than $558 million in civil and criminal court fees.
Davis says much of that money won’t be collected anytime soon. He notes 71% of that total is owed by indigent defendants or people that are incarcerated. The new court fines and fees collection program will expand into all 99 of Iowa’s counties over time.