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If you don’t pay court fine, you may lose your license

Staff Report • Jul 2, 2012 at 8:48 AM

A number of new state laws go into effect today, including one which could have a profound impact on the lives and livelihoods of many Tennesseans. This is a new provision that allows the state to revoke the driver’s licenses of residents who owe court-related taxes and fees.

The law, which was actually passed by the General Assembly last year, requires court clerk’s offices across Tennessee to send information to the state Department of Safety about those who are delinquent on their court fees and costs for more than a year. State officials will then suspend driving privileges until all the fees are paid.

As Press Staff Writer Becky Campbell wrote last week, Washington County Court Clerk Karen Guinn said the law applies to anyone who was assessed court costs and fines on or after July 1, 2011.

Guinn told the Press she’s concerned about defendants who have been paying on their court costs, but don’t or won’t have it paid in full by the one-year deadline. And Guinn said it’s not an option for her office to delay reporting the delinquencies.

We share her concern about defendants who are making a good faith effort to retire their obligations. We also understand the argument that taking a driver’s license away from a defendant might harm his ability to earn the money he needs to pay those court fees. Even so, we think this approach will prove successful.

It has certainly worked in convincing deadbeat parents to honor their commitments. The state Department of Human Services has collected millions in back child support payments since 2006. That was when DHS began sending out notices warning deadbeat parents they were in jeopardy of losing their professional, recreational and driver’s licenses.

Critics have argued that taking the driver’s license of a parent who is delinquent on paying child support is an extreme punishment that actually makes it harder for the individual to pay what they owe. That is exactly what makes the policy an effective tool for collecting overdue child support.

DHS officials say parents who can’t pay the full amount are allowed to work out a payment plan, but those who refuse to pay lose their licenses. You might say the DHS is using a carrot-and-the-stick approach to making parents do the right thing in regard to paying child support.

We believe this approach will also work in collecting delinquent court fees and costs.

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