published Saturday, June 11th, 2011

Driver’s licenses at stake for court-cost scofflaws

NASHVILLE—For years, thousands of Tennesseans found guilty of various crimes have gotten away with not paying fines, court costs and litigation taxes. One estimate pegs the resulting revenue loss to state and local governments at $1 billion or more.

But lawmakers hope the free ride is coming to a screeching halt under legislation passed in May by the General Assembly.

The bill requires the state Safety Department to revoke a person’s driver license if he or she is more than 12 months past due in paying penalties.

Judges can extend payment deadlines for six months in hardship cases. If necessary, delinquent drivers can pay in installments if they can’t swing the average $500 in litigation taxes, court costs and fines in one fell swoop.

The bill takes effect July 2. Because it’s not retroactive, it won’t apply to old fines.

House sponsor Rep. Jim Gotto, R-Hermitage, said he brought the bill because “it’s been a long-known fact that there’s a lot of money across the state owed by criminals who have been convicted and don’t pay their court costs.

“One of the reasons for that is that ... there was nothing to punish them with, to give them any incentive to pay,” Gotto said.

Court clerks, including Hamilton County Criminal Court Clerk Gwen Tidwell, are hailing its passage.

“I’m thrilled to death with it,” said Tidwell, estimating Hamilton County is losing millions of dollars in unpaid fees, costs and fines.

“Word gets around real quick that there’s no real stick to making them pay. ... You can’t put people back in jail for failure to pay their costs.”

See Sunday’s Times Free Press for complete coverage.

about Andy Sher...

Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...

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patriot1 said...

driver's licenses at "state?"....shouldn't that be at "stake"...come on can do better than that

June 11, 2011 at 8:16 p.m.
Salsa said...

Must be some of the new Executive Editor's fine work.

June 11, 2011 at 8:31 p.m.
sangaree said...

Greedy Tennesseans. Nothing more than a shakedown to make up for money shortages. If a person's license is revoked for unpaid fines then that means they won't be able to drive back and forth to work to pay the fines. So, you still won't get your money. Wouldn't it be better to garnish paychecks or something rather taking such drastic and crippling measures?

June 11, 2011 at 9:03 p.m.
Elliott904 said...

Great idea take away their Drivers Licence, then you can fine them more money that they can't pay. We need some new politicians in this State the one's we have are pretty stupid! How about some jobs so people can pay their fines? Any of you jerks come up with a jobs bill yet?

June 12, 2011 at 3:32 a.m.
eastridge8 said...

What will the state (or counties) gain if they take away their drivers license? NOTHING!! They really wouldn't be able to pay because then they can't DRIVE TO WORK!!! What NUMSCULLS!!! Why do we keep electing IDIOTS??? Because they keep LYING to us about how they are going to be "looking out for the MAN on MAin St..or our best interests", that's why....Politicians are all LIARS!!! Or get that way after they get there!!!

The Poltticians have GOOD jobs and CAN pay these fines while the average Joe can't pay them plus pay car payments and insurance, feed a family, pay rent/house payments/utilities and on and on...

I'm voting against ALL the NITWITS I helped put in office NEXT time!!!

June 12, 2011 at 6:16 p.m.
HannaBeckman said...

I have'nt had a license for 20 years, drive everyday/everywhere, and could care less if caught. I do a day in jail, big deal.I owe thousands in fines/court costs, etc. and here is what I do. I keep by bank balance at under $100.00 always, claim a ton of dependants so there is no refund to keep.I own a house, 3 cars, 2 of them 2 years old, thousands of dollars in household stuff, hobby collectables, how? everything in spouse's name!!!

June 12, 2011 at 9:38 p.m.
hcirehttae said...

What a joke! There are tens of thousands of people driving around out there with suspended licenses, no insurance, multiple traffic offenses and open warrants. They clear their nostrils in the general direction of laws like this!

June 12, 2011 at 11:12 p.m.
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