Penn. Legislature Passes Bill Allowing State Courts to Hire Private Collection Agencies

The Pennsylvania legislature has passed a bill that will allow state courts in the Commonwealth to place accounts private collection agencies to pursue individuals with overdue court fines and costs.

The bill, SB 516, has been presented to Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf for his signature or veto.

The bill passed in the state Senate by a vote of 34 to 15 and in the state House by a vote of 109 to 92. It was originally introduced by state Sen. Patrick Browne, a Republican. The bill was originally introduced during the 2019-20 legislative session but was not approved. If the bill is signed into law by Gov. Wolf, it will go into effect 120 days later.

Under current law, state courts are not allowed to use private collection agencies to try and recover unpaid court costs and fines, many of which are incurred by individuals living outside of the particular county in which they were fined in the first place. The only recourse is to have a local constable attempt to locate the individuals and have them appear before a District judge.

Now, when an individual fails to show for a financial determination hearing, the judge may turn the account over to a private collection agency or the county’s collection enforcement unit. Collection agencies would be able to retain 25% of what is recovered.

There are about 65,000 individuals who owe a combined $16 million to state courts in Pennsylvania, according to a published report. That amount is growing by $1.6 million every year. An analysis of the bill estimated it could bring in as much as $4 million initially and $400,000 every year after that.

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