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H.97

AN ACT RELATING TO OPERATING WITH A SUSPENDED LICENSE AND FAILING TO PAY PENALTIES FOR TRAFFIC OFFENSES

It is hereby enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Vermont:

Sec. 1.  23 V.S.A. § 674(i) is added to read:

(i)  A person who violates section 676 of this title for the fourth or a subsequent time shall be subject to the penalties set forth in subsection (a) of this section.

Sec. 2.  23 V.S.A. § 2307 is amended to read:

§ 2307.  SUSPENSION REMEDIES FOR FOR FAILURE TO PAY

(a)  As used in this section:

(1)  “Amount due” means all financial assessments contained in a judicial bureau judgment, including penalties, fines, surcharges, court costs, and any other assessment authorized by law.

(2)  “Designated credit bureau” means a credit bureau designated by the court administrator or the court administrator’s designee. 

(3)  “Designated collection agency” means a collection agency designated by the court administrator. 

(b)  Notice of risk of suspension.  In the case of failure to pay a penalty, the judicial bureau shall mail a notice to the defendant at the address in the complaint notifying the defendant A judgment for a traffic violation shall contain a notice that failure to pay or otherwise satisfy the penalty amount due within 20 days of the notice will result in suspension of the person’s operator’s license or privilege to operate until the penalty amount due is paid or otherwise satisfied.  A copy of the notice shall be sent If the defendant fails to pay the amount due within 20 days of the notice, the judicial bureau shall provide electronic notice thereof to the commissioner of motor vehicles who, after 20 days from the date of receiving the electronic notice, shall suspend the person’s operator’s license or privilege to operate until the penalty amount due is paid or otherwise satisfied.

(c)  Civil contempt proceedings.  If an amount due remains unpaid for 45 days after the judicial bureau provides the defendant with a notice of risk of suspension pursuant to subsection (b) of this section, the judicial bureau may initiate civil contempt proceedings pursuant to this subsection.  

(1)  Notice of hearing.  The judicial bureau shall provide notice by first class mail sent to the defendant’s last known address that a contempt hearing will be held pursuant to this subsection and that failure to appear at the contempt hearing may result in the sanctions listed in subsection (c)(2) of this section and subject to procedures for tax setoffs under 32 V.S.A. § 5941.

(2)  Failure to appear.  If the defendant fails to appear at the contempt hearing, the hearing officer may direct the clerk of the judicial bureau to:

(A)  cause the matter to be reported to one or more designated credit bureaus; or

(B)  refer the matter to district court for contempt proceedings.

(3)  Hearing.  The hearing shall be conducted in a summary manner.  The hearing officer shall examine the defendant and any other witnesses, and may require the defendant to produce documents relevant to the defendant’s ability to pay the amount due.  The state or municipality shall not be a party except with the permission of the hearing officer.  The defendant may be represented by counsel at the defendant’s own expense.

(4)  Mitigation Remedies.

(A)  The hearing officer may waive the reinstatement fee required by section 675 of this title or reduce the amount due on the basis of:

(i)  the defendant’s driving history, ability to pay, or service to the community;

(ii)  the collateral consequences of the violation; or

(iii)  the interests of justice.

(B)  The hearing officer may specify a date by which the defendant shall pay the amount due, and may notify the commissioner of motor vehicles to reinstate the defendant’s operator’s license or privilege subject to payment of the amount due by the specified date.  If the defendant fails to pay the amount due by the specified date, the judicial bureau may notify the commissioner to suspend the defendant’s operator’s license or privilege.  A license may be reinstated under this subdivision only if the defendant’s license is suspended solely for failure to pay a judicial bureau judgment.

(C)  The judicial officer shall have sole discretion to determine mitigation remedies pursuant to this subdivision, and the judicial officer’s determination shall not be subject to review or appeal in any court, tribunal, or administrative office.

(5)  Contempt.

(A)  The hearing officer may conclude that the defendant is in contempt if the hearing officer states in written findings a factual basis for concluding that:

(i)  The defendant knew or reasonably should have known that he or she owed an amount due on a judicial bureau judgment;

(ii)  The defendant had the ability to pay all or any portion of the amount due; and

(iii)  The defendant failed to pay all or any portion of the amount due.

(B)  The hearing officer may in the contempt order do one or more of the following:

(i)  Set a date by which the defendant shall pay the amount due;

(ii)  Assess an additional penalty not to exceed ten percent of the amount due;

(iii)  Direct the clerk of the judicial bureau to cause the matter to be reported to one or more designated credit bureaus.  The court administrator or the court administrator’s designee is authorized to contract with one or more credit bureaus for the purpose of reporting information about unpaid judicial bureau judgments; and

(iv)  Recommend that the district court incarcerate the defendant until the amount due is paid.  If incarceration is recommended pursuant to this subdivision, the judicial bureau shall notify the district court that contempt proceedings should be commenced against the defendant.  If the defendant cannot afford counsel for the contempt proceedings in district court, the defender general shall assign counsel at the defender general’s expense.

(d)  Collections.

(1)  If an amount due remains unpaid for one year after the issuance of a notice of risk of suspension pursuant to subsection (b) of this section and the defendant has failed to appear at a judicial bureau contempt hearing, the court administrator may authorize the clerk of the judicial bureau to refer the matter to a designated collection agency.

(2)(A)  The court administrator or the court administrator’s designee is authorized to contract with one or more collection agencies for the purpose of collecting unpaid judicial bureau judgments.

(B)  The court administrator may authorize a collection agency to settle a judicial bureau judgment for less than the amount due and to retain a portion of the amount collected for its services.  The judgment amount shall be reduced in the judicial bureau records to reflect the settlement amount and the fee retained by the collection agency.  

(e)  For purposes of civil contempt proceedings, venue shall be statewide.

(f)  Notwithstanding 32 V.S.A. § 502, the court administrator is authorized to contract with a third party to collect fines, penalties, and fees by credit card, debit card, charge card, prepaid card, stored value card and direct bank account withdrawals or transfers, as authorized by 32 V.S.A. § 583, and to add on and collect a processing charge in an amount approved by the court administrator.

Sec. 3.  32 V.S.A. § 5932(8) and (9) are added to read:

(8)  “Court” means a superior court, district court, or the judicial bureau.

(9)  “Judgment debtor” means any person who has not paid in full a court judgment for payment of a fine, penalty, surcharge, or fee due and payable to the state or a political subdivision thereof.


Sec. 4.  32 V.S.A. § 5941 is added to read:

§ 5941.  PROCEDURE FOR SETOFF OF COURT JUDGMENTS

(a)  The court shall include in any judgment a notice that any unpaid amounts shall be certified to the department for a set off on the judgment debtor’s income tax refund, and the notice shall explain how the judgment debtor may challenge the certification.

(b)  Sections 5934(c) and 5936 of this title, relating to the procedure for contesting the debt, shall not apply to a court seeking information from a judgment debtor.

(c)  Notwithstanding section 502 of this title, the department may assess against the judgment debtor a collection assistance fee in an amount established pursuant to section 5938 of this title.

(d)  If a judgment debtor identified by the court clerk is entitled to a refund, the department shall retain the collection assistance fee and then transfer to the court in which the judgment was issued an amount equal to the refund owed or the amount unpaid, whichever is less.

Sec. 5.  ESTABLISHMENT OF POSITION

One permanent position – Collections Manager – is established within the Judiciary.



Published by:

The Vermont General Assembly
115 State Street
Montpelier, Vermont


www.leg.state.vt.us