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BILL AS PASSED BY HOUSE 2007-2008

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H.313

AN ACT RELATING TO THE ADMINISTRATION AND ENFORCEMENT OF FINES WITHIN THE JUDICIAL BUREAU

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

Sec. 1.  4 V.S.A. § 1105 is amended to read:

§ 1105.  ANSWER TO COMPLAINT; DEFAULT

(a)  A violation shall be charged upon a summons and complaint form approved and distributed by the court administrator.  The complaint shall be signed by the issuing officer or by the state’s attorney.  The original shall be filed with the judicial bureau, a copy shall be retained by the issuing officer or state’s attorney and two copies shall be given to the defendant.  The complaint shall include a statement of rights, instructions, notice that a defendant may admit, not contest, or deny a violation, notice of the fee for failure to answer within 20 days, and other notices as the court administrator deems appropriate.  The court administrator, in consultation with appropriate law enforcement agencies, may approve a single form for charging all violations, or may approve two or more forms as necessary to administer the operations of the judicial bureau.

(b)  A person who is charged with a violation shall have 20 days from the date the complaint is issued to admit or deny the allegations or to state that he or she does not contest the allegations in the complaint.  The judicial bureau shall assess against a defendant a fee of $10.00 for failure to answer a complaint within the time allowed.  The fee shall be assessed in the default judgment and deposited in the state’s general fund.

(c)  A person who admits or does not contest the allegations may so indicate and sign the complaint.  The bureau shall accept the admission or statement that the allegations are not contested and accept payment of the waiver penalty.

(d)  If the person sends in the amount of the waiver penalty without signing the complaint, the bureau shall accept the payment indicating that payment was made and that the allegations were not contested.

(e)  A person who denies the allegations may so indicate and sign the complaint.  Upon receipt, the bureau shall schedule a hearing.

(f)  If a person fails to appear or answer a complaint the bureau shall enter a default judgment against the person.  The bureau shall mail a notice to the person that a default judgment has been entered.  A default judgment may be set aside by the hearing officer for good cause shown.

(g)  All judicial bureau judgments shall contain a notice of tax setoff pursuant to 32 V.S.A. § 5941.


Sec. 2.  4 V.S.A. § 1109 is added to read:

§ 1109.  REMEDIES 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 collection agency” means a collection agency designated by the court administrator.

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

(b)  A judicial bureau judgment shall provide notice that a $15.00 fee shall be assessed for failure to pay within 30 days.  If the defendant fails to pay the amount due within 30 days, the fee shall be added to the judgment amount and deposited in the state’s general fund.

(c)  Civil contempt proceedings.  If an amount due remains unpaid for 75 days after the judicial bureau provides the defendant with a notice of judgment, 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 subdivision (2) of this subsection.

(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)  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)  In the contempt order, the hearing officer may 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.

(iv)  Recommend that the district court incarcerate the defendant until the amount due is paid.  If incarceration is recommended pursuant to this subdivision (4), the judicial bureau shall notify the district court that contempt proceedings should be commenced against the defendant.  The district court proceedings shall be de novo.  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 default judgment, the court administrator may authorize the clerk of the judicial bureau to refer the matter to a designated collection agency.

(2)  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 pursuant to 13 V.S.A. § 7171.

(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, or charge against collections, a processing charge in an amount approved by the court administrator.

Sec. 3.  13 V.S.A. § 7171 is amended to read:

§ 7171.  Collection by complaint, information, or indictment

(a)  Fines, forfeitures, and penalties incurred or imposed by statute may be recovered by complaint, information, or indictment, unless some other mode of recovery is specially provided.

(b)  The attorney general court administrator is authorized to contract with private collection agencies for collection of fines, forfeitures, fees, and penalties incurred or imposed by statute on persons who have failed to pay after reasonable notification of the debt.  The attorney general and the court administrator may agree to pay collection agencies a fee based on a fixed rate for services rendered or a percentage of the amount actually collected by such agencies and remitted to the state.  Notwithstanding 32 V.S.A. § 502, the attorney general may charge against such collections an agreed‑upon fixed rate or percentage of collections The debtor shall be liable for the collection agency’s fee, in addition to the judgment amount.  The collection agency shall deduct its fee from the collected amount and remit the balance to the judiciary.

Sec. 4.  23 V.S.A. § 2307 is amended to read:

§ 2307.  REMEDIES FOR FAILURE TO PAY TRAFFIC VIOLATIONS

(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 collection agency” means a collection agency designated by the court administrator.

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

(b)  Notice of risk of suspension.  A judgment for a traffic violation shall contain a notice that failure to pay or otherwise satisfy the amount due within 20 30 days of the notice will result in suspension of the person’s operator’s license or privilege to operate until the amount due is paid or otherwise satisfied.  If the defendant fails to pay the amount due within 20 30 days of the notice and the case is not pending on appeal, 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 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.  During proceedings conducted pursuant to 4 V.S.A. § 1109, the hearing officer may apply the following mitigation remedies when the judgment is based upon a traffic violation:

(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 subdivision (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)(1)  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)(A)  the defendant’s driving history, ability to pay, or service to the community;

(ii)(B)  the collateral consequences of the violation; or

(iii)(C)  the interests of justice.

(B)(2)  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)(3)  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. 5.  32 V.S.A. § 509a is added to read:

§ 509a.  Judiciary overpayment; refund

Notwithstanding the provisions of section 509 of this title, when a person who owes money to the judiciary makes an overpayment, the judiciary shall forthwith refund to that person the amount of such overpayment when demand is made; however, there shall be no obligation to refund sums in the amount of $10.00 or less.   For refunds of $10.00 or less which are not demanded by the person within a year after the payment, the refund shall revert to the state and be deposited into the revenue fund where the original payment was deposited.  If a person owed a refund of more than $10.00 cannot be located by the judiciary, the refund shall be submitted to the abandoned property procedure. 

Sec. 6.  32 V.S.A. § 583 is amended to read:

§ 583.  Credit card payments

(a)  A statewide officer or secretary of a state agency, commissioner of a state department, or the court administrator may accept payment of taxes, registration fees, license fees, penalties, fines, interest, charges, surcharges, or any other fees or amounts due the state by means of credit cards, debit cards, charge cards, prepaid cards, stored value cards, and direct bank account withdrawals or transfers.

(b)  The court administrator may not accept credit cards, debit cards, charge cards, prepaid cards, stored value cards, and direct bank account withdrawals or transfers for payments of fines, penalties or surcharges assessed by a circuit of the district court.  However, the court administrator may accept credit cards, debit cards, charge cards, prepaid cards, stored value cards, and direct bank account withdrawals or transfers for any payments to the Chittenden, Essex, and Washington circuits of the district court.

(c)  The state treasurer shall negotiate and contract with banks and bank credit card companies or others to provide as a method of payment to state agencies, departments, or the judiciary the use of credit card or debit card accounts or direct bank account withdrawals or transfers, and may agree to pay such bank or other company a fee or percentage of the amount collected and remitted to the state.  Notwithstanding section 502 of this title, an agency, a department, or the judiciary may charge against such collections the percentage or fee imposed.

(d)(c)  The state treasurer shall assist each statewide officer, secretary, commissioner, and court administrator who elects to accept payments, as authorized by this section, with establishing procedures for accepting those payments.

(e)(d)  A statewide officer or secretary of a state agency, a commissioner of a state department, or the court administrator who has authority to accept payment of fees, penalties, fines, charges, surcharges, or any other amounts due the state by a credit card, debit card, charge card, prepaid card, or stored value card shall not charge or collect any additional amounts for using such card to make the payment unless the agency develops a policy regarding additional charges.  Each policy and recommended charge shall be approved by the secretary of administration prior to applying the charge.  Any such charge shall approximate the cost of providing the service.

(f)(e)  By January 15 of each year, the treasurer, with the assistance of the court administrator, shall file a report with the general assembly and the joint fiscal committee which:

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Sec. 7.  DEBT COLLECTION BY JUDICIARY

The court administrator is authorized to send a notice to defendants who have failed to pay judicial bureau and district court judgments issued prior to September 25, 2006 to inform them of the judiciary’s intent to collect the debt through any authorized means, and that the debt will be subject to procedures for tax setoffs under 32 V.S.A. § 5941.  Concurrent with providing the notice to the debtor, the judiciary shall assess a $10.00 collection fee which shall be added to the judgment amount and deposited in the state’s general fund.  If the defendant satisfies the judgment within 20 days, the fee shall be waived.  The court administrator may charge the cost of preparing and sending the notice against revenues collected in this effort.  This authorization shall expire on June 30, 2009.



Published by:

The Vermont General Assembly
115 State Street
Montpelier, Vermont


www.leg.state.vt.us