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Published on Friday, January 22, 2016

Bill looks to develop a unified payment plan system for traffic-based fines

HB 2659/SB 6360, Rep. Laurie Jinkins (D-Tacoma) and Sen. Steve O’Ban (R-University Place), would create a statewide relicensing program to enable drivers whose licenses have been suspended for delinquent fines to consolidate their fines into a simple and affordable payment plan.

Currently, approx. 375,231 Washingtonians have suspended drivers licenses—representing almost seven percent of the state's population. Nearly 60 percent are based solely on the driver's failure to pay fines and monetary obligations. Most drivers with suspended licenses owe traffic fines in multiple jurisdictions and in order to regain a license, all fines must be paid in each jurisdiction. This can be a difficult task as the fines increase into thousands of dollars. Most jurisdiction’s payment systems do not “talk” to one another and when a driver finds themselves in a situation where they have allowed tickets to add up, it can be overwhelming to figure out how to work their way out of the hole created.

While there is a valid argument that the driver landed themselves into this situation, in the end both the driver and the jurisdiction lose. Research shows many suspended drivers would pay their fines if the fines could be consolidated into a single monthly payment they can afford, with the suspension being lifted once the payments commence. Local relicensing programs of this kind have proven very successful in Spokane, Seattle, King County, and elsewhere – both in terms of helping drivers regain their license and in enabling courts to collect more fines than they would have otherwise received.

Advocates believe a single relicensing program that covers the entire state would ensure that any driver able and willing could make affordable monthly payments toward his or her tickets. This program would not shorten or otherwise affect the terms of any mandatory license suspension or any nonmonetary order imposed by a court or by the Department of Licensing.

Throughout the summer and fall, AWC participated in a workgroup sponsored by the Attorney General’s Office that discussed the possibility of creating a statewide relicensing program to address these issues. The workgroup developed the framework for the legislation. While not all of AWC’s suggestions were taken, HB 2659 and SB 6360 are the result of months of work by multiple stakeholders.

The legislation would involve the following:

  • The Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC), in consultation with the District and Municipal Courts Judge’s Association (DMCJA) and the District Municipal Court Management Association (DMCMA) would develop a plan for a program.
  • The Attorney General’s Office would convene a stakeholder group to meet as necessary to help provide input on the plan. AWC would be a part of this group.
  • An initial draft of the plan would be prepared no later than July 1, 2017.
  • The final stakeholder group would provide feedback on the plan to AOC no later than September 15, 2017.
  • AOC would report its final plan to the Washington State Supreme Court, the Governor and the Legislature no later than December 1, 2017.

AWC supports the overall concept of a universal relicensing system and will continue to work with the stakeholders as this bill moves through the Legislature. AWC has some concerns around issues of preemption and the need to offer additional services like traffic safety training, but remains committed to helping solve this complex problem. A hearing on HB 2659 is set for Thursday, January 28 in the House Judiciary Committee. The Senate companion is not scheduled for public hearing at this time.

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