Big Brother Is Forcing Citizens To Pay Fines To Fund DHS

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State lawmakers thought a 2011 bill allowing revocation of driver’s licenses for deadbeats who failed to pay criminal fines and court costs would reap millions in reinstatement fees.

A 2011 bill gave the Tennessee government the ability to revoke the license of anyone in the state who did not pay criminal fines and court costs. Lawmakers originally hoped the law would bring millions of dollars in reinstatement fees, money which would be directed to the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security. Only nine counties are complying with the law by notifying the state of violators, and so far the state had collected just $22,425.

Bill Gibbons, the Safety and Homeland Security Commissioner sent a letter to clerks in all ninety-five counties reminding them of the law earlier this month.

The Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security is asking for $7.6 million to boost its budget after a plan to raise the money thorough driver’s license fees fell far short of expectations.

A 2011 bill gave the state the ability to revoke the license of anyone in the state who did not pay criminal fines and court costs. Lawmakers originally thought the law would bring millions of dollars in reinstatement fees, but according to the Chattanooga Times only nine counties are complying with the law by notifying the state of violators. So far the state had collected just $22,425.

The legislation was proposed by Metro Nashville’s Criminal Court clerk’s office. In 2009 statistics showed The Timesnews reports that 328,000 residents committed a criminal offense which put them under the revocation proposal, and 75 percent did not pay their fines.

Statistics also estimated 25 percent of those residents would seek to reinstate their license. According to projections by legislative analysts, the bill would inject $6.1 million for the state and $6.4 million for local governments.

The shortfall has left a gaping hole in the department’s budget, Safety and Homeland Security Commissioner Bill Gibbons said last week.

“The department is requesting $7.6 million in supplemental funding for the current fiscal year in order to correct the overestimate of driver’s license reinstatement fees,” Gibbons told Senate Transportation Committee members.

The law requires county court clerks to notify the state of scofflaws who’ve gone at least a year without paying anything toward fines and costs. The department then revokes their licenses until they start to pay up.

Tennessee charges $65 for each license reinstatement plus an additional fee for the license.

Hamilton County Criminal Court Clerk Gwen Tidwell is among those participating. So are clerks in the three other largest counties — Davidson, Knox and Shelby.

A number of counties are “working on methods to provide notices electronically” to the state, Gibbons said.

This month, the commissioner fired off a letter to clerks in all 95 counties reminding them of the law.
Part of Gov. Bill Haslam’s “public safety action plans,” the letter points out, calls for improving collections of fines and fees in criminal cases “as a way of holding convicted offenders accountable and increasing payment owed” to the state and counties.

Tidwell said she has one staffer doing the work to comply with the law, which she calls “a hassle.”
“We have to fill out paperwork and then mail it in to them,” Tidwell said.

But in the last 30 days or so, she said, the Safety Department has set up a system so clerks can report electronically.

At the time the 2011 law passed, some lawmakers complained that it would be difficult to get many people to pay because the Legislature in recent years has increased fees and fines as an alternative to raising taxes.

The legislation was brought by Metro Nashville’s Criminal Court clerk’s office. The fiscal note accompanying the bill says that in 2009, 328,000 people had committed a criminal offense that put them under the driver’s license revocation proposal.

Of those, 75 percent, or 246,000, didn’t pay their fines. The fiscal note estimated that 25 percent, or 61,650, scofflaws would seek to reinstate their licenses. Legislative analysts projected the reinstatement fees would generate $4 million for the state, plus $900,000 or so from driver’s license fees. Average litigation taxes run about $500, with 16 percent going to state government. That would generate another $1.23 million. The total projected take was $6.1 million for the state and $6.4 million for local governments.