Crime

Franklin County amnesty extends to 44 drivers

Forty-four people are back on the road legally after taking advantage of a monthlong Franklin County District Court amnesty that allowed them to pay outstanding tickets without also paying accrued collection costs.

The "Debt Reduction Program" helped the court clear 90 old tickets off its books in May and brought in $23,000 in unpaid fines.

Though those numbers may seem small given the court's 26,000 delinquent accounts and $14 million owed, administrators are pleased with the turnout and have decided to extend the program through June 30.

District Court Administrator Kelly Martin said she didn't know what to expect from the statewide program since Franklin County did not participate when a similar event was held in Washington's district and municipal courts in October 2002.

"The main thing was to get some old cases cleaned up, to get some licenses reinstated and to collect some revenue," she said.

Money from traffic tickets and fines is broken down numerous ways, with some paid to the city or county, the state, for probation assessments and programs like crime victims.

About 110 courts in Washington, including six in the Mid-Columbia, offered the Debt Reduction Program in May. The only exception to eligibility was people whose wages already are garnisheed by the courts.

Statewide results were not yet available Monday.

About 46 courts are extending the program into June. The two in the Mid-Columbia are Franklin County District Court and Yakima County District Court.

"I don't know how much more an additional month is going to do," Martin said. "We're just staying positive and trying to take care of it."

Before the program started May 1, the state had more than 1.5 million outstanding failures to appear, meaning a person gets a ticket but never resolves it in the court.

Each traffic-related failure to appear is reported to the state Department of Licensing, which then suspends that person's right to drive in Washington. A revoked license also affects a person's driving privileges in other states and possibly even their employment.

People who take advantage of the debt program can apply for a valid license just 48 hours after paying their tickets in full, so long as nothing else is on their record.

Martin said her court has about 150 pending cases for driving with a suspended license. But after taking care of their legal matters through the program, "that is 44 people back on the road driving and working and hopefully stimulating the economy," she said.

Martin said on average most people had only one unpaid ticket, though some had two or three.

Most of the outstanding fines had been turned over to collections in the last year or two, she said. The oldest case to be paid off was from nine years ago, with a total tab of $1,660.

People still must pay a $52 penalty fee in addition to the base amount, but the interest and other costs are waived under the program.

The court was busy last Friday with people who waited until the last minute to make their payment before the program was to end. But now that it will continue for four more weeks, Martin encourages others to address their court debt.

People with outstanding tickets or fines in Franklin County District Court can call 545-3593 or stop by the Franklin County Courthouse to make payment arrangements.

-- On the net: List of courts extending the program, www. courts.wa.gov/newsinfo/?fa=newsinfo.internetdetail&newsid=1388

-- To check your driving privilege, go to https://fortress.wa. gov/dol/dolprod/dsdDriver StatusDisplay. You will need your driver's license number.

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