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New York group sues Tennessee for revoking drivers licenses


NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WMOT)  --  A judicial reform group says it will continue its lawsuit against the State of Tennessee over a law that revokes the driver’s licenses of offenders who fail to pay court fees and fines.

State legislators made significant changes to the law during the just completed legislative session, but the New York based National Center for Law and Economic Justice says it isn’t enough.

Legislators changed the law to giving judges more leeway and to exempt more poor defendants unable to pay court costs and judgements. But the Center’s Claudia Wilner says the Tennessee law still violates the 14th Amendment’s due process provisions.

“Even with this new bill the state is still going to be automatically revoking licenses without notice, from people too poor to pay without considering people’s ability to pay.”

State Senator Steve Dickerson agrees that the original law was unequally impacting poor offenders. As evidence of that, he notes court fee and fine collections actually declined after the bill was passed.

While he believes his update of the law is a significant improvement, Dickerson says he is willing to consider additional changes.

“I don’t know that I’ve come up with a perfect solution, but I do think this is an incremental improvement and I’m more than happy to revisit the issue next year and try to make it an even better law.”

The State has asked the judge presiding over the case to dismiss the lawsuit. Attorneys for the National Center for Law and Economic Justice will respond to that motion at hearing scheduled for July.