Individuals with traffic-related fines in multiple jurisdictions in King County now have an easier and less expensive way to pay court-mandated fines from multiple courts through the new Unified Payment (UP) Program. This new program also lifts the hold on a person’s driver’s license before the fines are completely paid off.
“This is a great program that will allow people a convenient, low-cost way to quickly lift the hold on their driver’s license,” LaTricia Kinlow, court administrator for the Tukwila Municipal Court said in a media release. “Suspended licenses are a huge barrier to employment and other obligations and often lead to even more fines and court appearances. With this program, it’s one-stop shopping for people who have fines in more than one court, and as soon as they make their first payment we lift the hold on their license.”
The program is a collaboration between district and municipal courts in King County. The UP Program allows people with fines in multiple jurisdictions in King County to pay off their obligations without going to a collection agency. Because the program charges a flat fee of $7 per month, individuals save costs that would have been accrued through a collection agency, which assesses collection fees and compounding interest as high as 19 percent. Monthly payments as low as $25 are accepted and the agency will work with court customers to determine an appropriate amount on an individual basis.
“Court fines can have a snowballing effect that set people up for failure; particularly people with little economic means,” said Karen Campbell, senior attorney for the Northwest Justice Project Vancouver, and an appointee to the committee created by the Washington State Legislature to work on the creation of a statewide relicensing program. “The King County UP Program represents a positive first step toward reducing barriers faced by low income individuals. While we continue to work toward a statewide program to assist low income individuals throughout Washington, and appreciate the work by the Attorney General on that project, we are equally appreciative of those at the local level, like those in King County, who are proactively working toward this goal.”
In 2016, 66,000 people in King County had court fines that could lead to automatic suspension of their driver’s license. The average fine obligation for these individuals was $315. Many of these individuals had fines in multiple courts, which required two or more separate payment plans for each court, often through a collection agency charging both interest and collection fees.
“The courts in King County have a responsibility to administer justice every day,” Kinlow said. “This program collectively shows the mercy side of the court, and I am proud to be a part of this effort to provide another service to our customers. We want our customers to know that we can and do dispense justice in a merciful way.”.
Participating courts include King County District Court and the municipal courts of Algona, Auburn, Bellevue, Black Diamond, Bothell, Burien, Des Moines, Duvall, Enumclaw, Federal Way, Hunts Point, Issaquah, Kenmore, Kent, Kirkland, Lake Forest Park, Maple Valley, Mercer Island, Newcastle, Normandy Park, North Bend, Pacific, Redmond, Renton, Sammamish, SeaTac, Seattle, Shoreline, Skykomish, Snoqualmie, Tukwila, Woodinville and Yarrow Point. Each of these courts operate their own relicensing programs that allow individuals with fines in their court to participate in similar payment programs and/or payment alternatives.
“We are aware and excited about the effort towards a statewide consolidated payment program, and we look forward to hearing what the committee proposes. We just believe it is better for our customers if we start now rather than later,” Kimberly Walden, presiding judge of the Tukwila Municipal Court said.