Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security fees fall short, seeks $7.6 million

Associated Press • Feb 24, 2013 at 5:38 AM

NASHVILLE -- The Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security is requesting $7.6 million to supplement its budget after a planned windfall from driver's license fees failed to materialize.

A 2011 bill allowed the state to revoke the licenses of people who do not pay criminal fines and court costs. Lawmakers expected the change to bring in millions of dollars in reinstatement fees.

But the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports (http://bit.ly/WcmH58) that so far only nine counties are complying with the law by notifying the state of scofflaws, and Tennessee has collected just $22,425.

Safety and Homeland Security Commissioner Bill Gibbons sent a letter earlier this month to clerks in all 95 counties reminding them of the law.

The legislation was proposed by Metro Nashville's Criminal Court clerk's office. The fiscal note accompanying the bill says that in 2009, 328,000 people had committed a criminal offense that put them under the driver's license revocation proposal and a full 75 percent didn't pay their fines.

The fiscal note estimated that 25 percent of those would seek to reinstate their licenses. Legislative analysts projected that would bring in $6.1 million for the state and $6.4 million for local governments.

Hamilton County Criminal Court Clerk Gwen Tidwell is among those complying with the new requirements.

Tidwell said she has one staffer compiling the names of people who have gone at least a year without paying anything toward fines and court costs and sending them to the state.

She says it is "a hassle," and the Safety Department only set up a way for the reports to be submitted electronically in the last 30 days or so. But she said workers in her office tell her the revocation is bringing at least some people in to pay their fines and fees, so it's working to some extent.

"It's a problem across the state that criminals don't pay what they owe," Tidwell said.


Information from: Chattanooga Times Free Press, http://www.timesfreepress.com

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