Under Montana law, judges have the discretion to suspend the driver licenses of individuals who fail to pay their debts.

Now, one state lawmaker is trying to change that law, which he feels unfairly punishes the poor.

Representative Casey Knudsen stood before the House Judiciary Committee today arguing his case.

Knudsen says suspending licenses for debts unpaid only adds to the problem. He feels it makes it harder for people who are struggling with their debts, to get to work to pay those debts.

Rep. Knudsen said, "It seems like common sense that if you want people to pay their bills, you won't take away their ability to get to work. I know that some people will not pay their court costs, but that's really not most people in the system. And, this bill will not help someone with financial means skirt the law."

The Montana Magistrates Association stands in opposition of the bill. They argue that the law doesn't require a judge to suspend a driver's license for failure to pay a debt, but allows for that penalty only after a debtor fails to comply with a time pay agreement.

Greg Mohr, Montana Magistrates Association said, "We have to determine if that person can pay the fine. if they can't pay the fine, we can't levy the fine. So, this is not an issue of people who can't afford to pay a fine. This is an issue of people flat not paying the fine and again that push the button and suspend the driver's license. We can do that, but the problem is there's a big, long, drawn out process before pushing that button can happen.

The Americans for Prosperity Montana spoke in favor of the bill. They contend that roughly 10,000 Montanans currently find themselves with a suspended license for failure to pay their debts. 

They also cite a national study claiming that 42% of people who have their licenses suspended lose their jobs.

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