Legislature(1995 - 1996)
03/17/1995 10:20 AM FIN
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
SENATE BILL NO. 6 An Act relating to registration of a motor vehicle and suspension of a driver's license for failure to appear in court or failure to pay a fine. Co-chairman Halford directed that SB 6 be brought on for discussion and further directed attention to a draft CSSB 6 (9-LS0091\C, Ford, 3/16/95). Senator Robin Taylor, sponsor, came before committee. He explained that the proposed draft modifies the bill to cover concerns raised when the bill was applied to Anchorage where there have been problems in the manner in which parking violations are enforced. Senator Taylor said he had not initially intended to address the parking issue. Senator Randy Phillips referenced correspondence from Larry Wood expressing concern regarding the bill. JOE AMBROSE, aide to Senator Taylor, advised of a conversation with Mr. Wood, indicating that Mr. Wood is of the opinion that the bill will increase rather than decrease the burden on the court system. The view of the sponsor is that the bill will enable the courts to move faster because it will not necessarily have to issue a warrant and send out a trooper. The operator's license will simply be suspended, and when the operator attempts to renew the license, he or she will have to pay the fine. Mr. Ambrose advised that there are 25,000 outstanding fines each year. That does not appear to be a problem for Mr. Wood. There is a philosophical difference as to whether or not people should be required to pay fines. Senator Phillips next inquired regarding a suggestion that unpaid court fines be sent to a private collection agency. Senator Taylor explained that there would be no benefit in such an arrangement. A collection agency is not necessary if failure to pay the fine is tied to the ability to obtain a driver's license. Enforcement of the fine is automatic when individuals with outstanding fines apply for or attempt to renew the license. Co-chairman Frank asked if the sponsor considered withholding individual permanent fund dividends until the fine is paid. Senator Taylor said that many options were considered for enforcement of criminal fines in general. The Co-chairman suggested that deterrent within the proposed bill should focus on the dividend. Co-chairman Halford questioned the lack of a fiscal note from the Dept. of Corrections. He noted a substantial correctional system impact from the second tier of DWI offenses. He asked if the proposed bill would impose the same penalty for DWLS (driving with license suspended) following failure to pay a fine as current statutes apply to DWLS following a DWI conviction. In response to a question from Senator Rieger, Senator Taylor advised that DWLS is a misdemeanor. Senator Rieger then asked if it could be incorporated within day fines legislation and avoid impact on corrections. Senator Taylor responded affirmatively. Co-chairman Halford voiced need for a separation between DWLS for DWI offenses versus license suspensions for fine offenses. JUANITA HENSLEY, Chief of Driver Services, Division of Motor Vehicles, Dept. of Public Safety, next spoke via teleconference from Anchorage. She explained that the first offense of driving with a suspended or revoked license carries a mandatory 10 days with 10 days suspended. In lieu of serving 10 days, an individual may perform 80 hours of community work service. In response to a question from Co-chairman Frank, Senator Taylor said that the bill would apply to all fines for moving traffic violations. Most would amount to $150 or $200. Co-chairman Frank voiced his belief that individuals would be highly motivated to pay their fines rather than risk loss of the $1,000 dividend. Senator Taylor noted that the dividend is only paid once a year. That allows eleven months in which to "dodge fines and leave town." Co- chairman Frank advised that license renewal occurs every five years. The backlog in court fines totals many millions. Senator Taylor explained that the individual's license would be suspended upon failure to pay a fine or failure to appear in court. Co-chairman Frank questioned need to incur costs relating to the court system, public defender, and prosecutor, when denial of the permanent dividend would serve as a much greater deterrent. Senator Taylor noted need to determine whether the individual is actually guilty as charged. No such decision has been made when an individual has merely failed to appear. Co-chairman Frank suggested that the individual become ineligible for the dividend for failure to appear in court. Senator Taylor attested to his belief that deterrence would be enhanced as knowledge of the automatic suspension becomes known. Experience in the state of Washington shows that 50% of those whose licenses are suspended pay within the first week. Co-chairman Frank questioned the impact of the remaining 50% on the correctional system. Discussion followed regarding civil rather than criminal enforcement of traffic violations. Co-chairman Frank voiced his belief that the criminal justice system should focus on more serious crime. Co-chairman Halford voiced his understanding that the penalty of license suspension for failure to respond to a moving citation is legitimate and done in many other states. He expressed concern, however, over the possibility that the DWLS penalty for DWI would be applied to DWLS for failure to pay a traffic fine. Senator Taylor noted that a number of suspensions result from accumulation of points by young people. The legislature long ago decided "to be very harsh on people driving with suspended licenses in the hopes that they would force people to come back into the system." Co- chairman Halford noted that the penalty is harsh because the practices of building up points and driving while intoxicated are dangers to other people. Failure to pay a fine for a burned out tail light is a cost and aggravation but not an immediate danger to other people. Co-chairman Frank voiced need for information on the number of people in jail for "this type of offense." He voiced reluctance to add to the prison population. Discussion followed between Senator Taylor and Senator Rieger concerning the prevalence of differing types of moving and equipment violation citations issued in various districts of the state. Juanita Hensley said that the proposed bill speaks strictly to moving violations. Equipment violations are a correctable offense. If the defect is repaired and the repaired vehicle is presented to the law enforcement agency within 10 days, the ticket is dismissed. Senator Taylor suggested that the issue of denial of permanent fund dividends to misdemeanants be limited to Senator Frank's legislation (SB 135). Co-chairman Frank agreed that SB 6 would motivate more people to pay their fines. It will also result in "more people doing more jail time." Senator Taylor concurred. He reiterated opportunity to utilize day fines and suggested that most people would "want to find some other way than sitting in jail for 10 days . . . ." Discussion followed regarding problems stemming from mandatory sentencing. Further discussion followed regarding the motivational capability of the permanent fund dividend. Senator Donley voiced his belief that those who lose their license have it suspended or revoked for good reason. When they continue to drive, there is need for a substantial penalty. Co-chairman Frank said he concurred in the instance of DWI charges. He again questioned whether people should be incarcerated for failure to pay a fine. He further questioned the advisability of undertaking an expensive process (court, public defender, and prosecutor time) to obtain a $150 fine, while on the other hand providing the individual a $1,000 dividend later in the year. Senator Taylor explained that judges are already dealing with the paper work associated with the proposed bill. Co-chairman Halford voiced need for fiscal note information from the Dept. of Corrections. He then suggested that Co- chairman Frank and Senator Taylor continue to work on the bill. ADJOURNMENT The meeting was adjourned at approximately 10:50 a.m.