Penn. Gov. Vetoes Bill Allowing State Courts to Hire Private Collection Agencies

The governor of Pennsylvania has vetoed proposed legislation that would have allowed state courts to hire private collection agencies to recover unpaid court fines and costs, saying it could “disproportionately” harm low-income individuals.

Backers of the legislation said that allowing state court judges to hire private collection agencies could help collect on a backlog of $16 million in unpaid fines that increases by as much as $1.6 million every year.

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. Under the proposed legislation, 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.

Some people fail to show for their financial determination hearings because they have moved or otherwise fulfilled their obligation to the court, Gov. Tom Wolf noted in his veto message.

Gov. Wolf opted to veto the legislation because it purportedly treated people who were unable to pay their fines the same as those who were able to pay, but chose not to do so. “While I strongly recognize that victims should have every effort made to collect restitution on their behalf, this bill does not delineate between those defendants with an ability to pay versus those that do not,” he wrote.

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