Missouri Senate panel mulls bill to collect jail fees

Thursday, January 17, 2013 | 4:59 p.m. CST

JEFFERSON CITY — A Missouri Senate panel considered legislation Thursday that would divert income tax refunds and lottery winnings to pay off individuals' county jail debts.

State law requires people confined in county jails for state crimes to reimburse counties for the cost of the incarceration. Missouri already taps lottery winnings, but not income tax refunds, for unpaid child support and health care services.

The Missouri Sheriffs' Association estimates unpaid jail boarding fees statewide total about $3 million. Sheriffs' association director Mick Covington said it can cost a county at least $1,000 to hold a person charged with a state misdemeanor offense.

J. Kent Oberkrom, the sheriff in Henry County and the association's president, said his county of 25,000 people has accumulated $105,000 in jail debts since 2003.

"No one is trying to collect this money," Oberkrom said.

The bill also includes provisions requiring people with jail debts to give up their concealed weapons permits and making them ineligible for hunting or fishing licenses.

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Brian Munzlinger, R-Williamstown, said such things are "privileges" that should not be available to those who owe money after being incarcerated.

But the state Conservation Department raised concern about how it would verify who is an ineligible hunter or fisher. The department issued nearly 2 million permits for hunting and fishing in 2011.

An interim House committee met last November to look at issues affecting sheriff's departments. Sheriffs testified then that jail costs have become a growing problem, and one of their suggestions was intercepting lottery winnings to pay off debts.

The Senate committee did not vote on the legislation Thursday.

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