Tennessee’s Court Fees and Taxes: Funding the Courts Fairly

In response to concern from House Civil Justice Committee members about the practice of fee increases, Senator Jon Lundberg requested a study on court fees. The resulting report reviews all bills passed in the last 10 years that increased any type of court fee and efforts to collect unpaid court costs. The report suggests that Tennessee should provide more thorough analysis of court costs, how they accumulate, and related earmarks through the use of a judicial committee that reviews and makes recommendations on bills proposing to add or increase court costs.

Key Findings: 

  • There are 245 separate court fees (213) and taxes (32) in Tennessee that vary by the court, type of case, actions taken, and whether they are mandatory, optional, statewide, or county-specific. Of those, 55 fees and 31 taxes are earmarked for various programs, funds, and agencies. 
  • Costs assessed can range from a optional fee of 50 cents for making copies to a mandatory tax of up to $3,000 on sex offense convictions.
  • Since 2005, the General Assembly has passed 46 bills that increased or added new court fees and taxes or authorized local governments to impose them.
  • Since the driver’s license revocation law went into effect in 2011, 191,089 people have had their driver’s licenses revoked.
  • The costs associated with driving on a revoked, suspended, or canceled license could include up to 17 separate fees and taxes totaling a minimum of approximately $112 to over $300.
  • In Tennessee, people can be sent to jail if they are able to pay the fines but willfully refuse to do so.
  • Public Chapters 675 and 1087, Acts of 2016, give judges authority to order offenders to pay criminal court costs through community service in counties with programs.
  • Although three state agencies have recently attempted to gather data about Tennessee’s court collections, reliable data is not available. 

You can read the full report here.

Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations