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Minutes for SB181 - Committee on Transportation

Short Title

Allowing certain persons with suspended drivers' licenses to enter into amnesty agreements with the district court.

Minutes Content for Thu, Feb 16, 2017

Chairperson Petersen opened the hearing on this bill.  Mr. Wells gave a briefing. This will would allow the district courts to offer an amnesty to drivers who have been suspended for failure to comply with a citation.  Under the terms of the amnesty agreement, the district court would recall any warrants directly related to the suspension, waive reinstatement and collection fees directly related to the suspension, and offer payment plans to persons who are unable to pay in full.  Persons unable to pay due a hardship or lack of employment could enter into a further agreement whereby they can work off some of those fines either through community service at $5 per hour or attending job training classes at $8 per hour.  This amnesty program would not apply to any person whose driving privileges have been suspended by another court, to non-traffic warrants, or persons who have been convicted of certain alcohol-related or drug-related offenses or driving without vehicle insurance.

Senator Faust-Goudeau provided proponent testimony (Attachment 2) noting for the past ten years, the City of Wichita has held several amnesty programs to assist people to pay their fines.  One individual had a ticket for $100, as this person did not know to call and make payment arrangements, the amount ballooned to $1,500.  This program allowed them to get back where they originally were, apply for a restricted driver's license, drive legally to get to work, school, and the grocery store, and to get insurance while at the same time, the city is collecting money owed.  Donte Martin, Wichita Municipal Court Administrator, did say again many people participated and resolved their outstanding fees, money was recouped, and warrants were cleared through this amnesty program in Wichita.  She added this is a win-win situation. This simply adds to existing law and will help individuals and help our state, too.

Senator Hardy questioned the hardship caused to the clerks of the court around the state, today's testimony from Amanda Truan.  Senator Faust-Goudeau said Mr. Martin went into detail on how simple the process was in Wichita.  He explained many cases are sent to a collection agency.  When the city takes it over,  the collection agency is contacted and it is again handled by the City of Wichita.  Mr. Martin had explained that it did not require any additional employees.  Senator Faust-Goudeau noted perhaps there are different situations in some counties and cities and there may be exceptions in a way to best fit their community.

Judge Journey gave proponent testimony (Attachment 3).  Judge Journey addressed Senator Hardy's question by explaining these are not new cases, but being cleared are existing cases which have been setting on the court's docket. There is some logistical effort to be made, but the current system is like getting blood from a turnip where people give up.  With the program, the person can get to and from work, get on the payment plan, etc.  This will be revenue positive for the state, as fines go to the general fund and court costs to various recipients.  It will get warrants withdrawn and pull them back from collections.  District Attorneys will be more than happy to put in extra work, too, because they will be the ones writing the payment contract.  The court could limit the time and individual could have to pay all fines.  Judge Journey added it will yield money and, most importantly, it will give families economic potential they lost when they lost that privilege to operate a vehicle.  They would be able to expand their range of travel and opportunities for employment, housing, schools and make their lives run so much better and take people off the roll. 

Judge Journey talked about the economic cost of losing a driver's license particularly in rural Kansas.  In Wichita, buses shut down at 6:00 p.m., and it takes 4 hours to get across town.  Mopeds are much quicker.  In his testimony Judge Journey included the statistics from a Wichita Municipal Court amnesty program, and the revenue generated in a limited window of time.  If the provisions of this bill and SB5 were both implemented, it could be comprehensive.  He urged legislators to help people get their driving privileges restored and back on track and not be a burden on anyone, which would make money for the state.

Senator Hawk asked about just removing the provision to apply to the Division of Vehicles. Judge Journey says under current statute, certain individuals can ask for a restricted license to go back and forth to work when suspended for failing to comply with a traffic citation on time (KSA 8-2110). They get a ticket and don't go to court.  Many times, they don't receive the 30-day notice because they don't live at the address associated with the driver's license in Kansas Department of Revenue (KDOR) records.  They think the forwarding address with the U.S. Postal Service worked.  However, the KDOR notice says to come in within 30 days or the license is suspended, and there is a "do not forward" on the envelope.  State laws require a change of address form at the Department of Revenue within 10 days of moving, but most people don't know that.  Possibly the notice went to address on the ticket but they were kicked out of an apartment and moved to another.  If people knew that option was available, many more people would avail themselves of it. 

Judge Journey indicated the Department of Revenue issues 200,000 KSA 8-2110 suspensions a year which affects 10% of the population of drivers or every 10th car.  Every eighth car doesn't have insurance.  Senator Hawk asked if the provision in Section 1 regarding application to the Division of Vehicles needs to stay.  Judge Journey responded the amnesty is intended to help only people who have tickets they have not paid and it will not help if the license is revoked because of DUI's. This is just to help the single mom who got a ticket she didn't take care of, she just kept driving, and the amount owed gets bigger and bigger.  The judge said people in those circumstances change their lives to fit the circumstances and usually that is pretty negative.

Chairperson Petersen asked if this could become a pilot program to be started, say in Sedgwick County.  Judge Journey said he could see doing that.  Metropolitan counties are where the most cases are and have the most resources.  In Wichita, with the 500 warrants cleared, $100,000 was collected.

Senator Fitzgerald asked, if this has already been in used in Wichita once or twice with beneficial effect, why a statute is needed.  Judge Journey explained in Wichita, it was done under the City's own charter ordinance under home rule and is applicable only to the municipal court.  He added that statutory authority gives ultimate authority to waive fees, pull back from collection agencies, etc.  This bill is intended to affect district courts.  He added that Wichita police tickets go to municipal court and sheriff and Highway Patrol tickets go to district courts.  He suggested handling the statewide issues now and the city issues later.

Written-only proponent testimony (Attachment 4) was provided by Iris Evans, Topeka, Kansas.

Amanda Truan, Kansas Association of District Court Clerks and Administrators, gave opponent testimony (Attachment 5).  Ms. Truan is also Clerk of Court from Ellis County, Kansas.  She explained the steps after a traffic ticket is issued and the effects of the delay in sorted mail give the requirement for action within 30 days to contact the court.  If a reinstatement fee is waived, some agencies lose funding which is a direct impact on their budgets.

Ms. Truan noted that the bill states the district court will enter into an amnesty agreement, and she noted small offices do not have the staff to handle this additional workload.  She asked for some time to rework the bill so current staff could do the work.   She added that the state's case management system does not allow for payment plans.  Also the e-Court system is in the request-for-proposal process, and additional enhancements would be needed for the payment plan.

It was suggested this could possibly be an option for the district courts, but Wichita would be able to comply.  Although some computer enhancement would assist her office, Ms. Truan noted that Ellis County has 5,000 traffic cases a year, less than Sedgwick County, but handled by a part-time person who earns $11.52 an hour, and there would have to be a request for additional personnel.  She added that on line 11, if "shall" was changed to "may," this would be more workable.  Ms. Truan noted that the e-system is mandated in Ellis County, and the county has taken all the efficiencies that it can.  Senator Tyson noted that e-filing is a burden on some lawyers that do not have electronic systems.

Jessica Ross, Manager Driver Solutions, KDOR, gave neutral testimony (Attachment 6).  The Division of Vehicles stands neutral on this bill, but would ask the legislators to consider removing the language referencing the restricted driving privilege program of  KSA 8-2110(b)(2). The ability for a customer to apply for a restricted driving privilege is a stand-alone process from the amnesty program.  It appears the Division program is a prerequisite to amnesty and therefore some communication is needed between the Driver Solutions office and the court.  They are very separate and the Division asks that they be kept that way.  She stood for questions.

Chairperson Petersen asked if she would be willing to work with the Revisors today to draft an amendment as he would like to work the bill tomorrow. She answered yes. 

Senator Fitzgerald said he very much appreciated having Judge Journey's comments on removal of  KSA 8-2110 and then changing "shall" to "may" in line 11.  Judge Journey said this program worked well in Wichita, and it should be started statewide.  He understands the problems for small counties. 

The Office of Judicial Administration provided additional fiscal impact information on this bill, which as distributed to the Committee (Attachment 7).

Chairperson Petersen closed the hearing on this bill.