NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Prisoners have seen a tough string of legislation over the past year, but soon, they could get a small slice of relief.
Sen. Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga) filed a bill that would create a 180-day window for ex-felons to pay back court restitution.
“You’re wearing a big red letter on your forehead, and it’s hard to get a job. Nobody trusts you,” Gardenhire said. “To all of a sudden say, ‘Now today, you’re going to start paying these fines back,” and if they can’t then that dings their credit, which is already destroyed anyway, it just puts them further behind.”
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Fees and costs can vary case by case. Generally, it can run as low as a few hundred dollars or as high as 50-thousand dollars, depending on the type of crime.
“We only collect 70 to 80% of those fines, so why—I mean, somewhere they’re a little too high or somewhere we’re just not getting them for some reason,” Gardenhire said. “So, let’s give these people who really want to pay it back a break.”
The bill has bipartisan support—at least, the way it currently reads.
“Yeah, the legislation as currently written looks positive and we’ll monitor it as it progresses through the legislative session,” House Minority Caucus Chair John Ray Clemmons (D-Nashville) said.
The problem Gardenhire may run into could be within his own party, as many Republicans have been leery about being seen as ‘easier on crime;’ though the senator didn’t seem too concerned.
“I can only speak for the Senate, I don’t think there will be much opposition for it. Matter of fact, I think a lot of my colleagues will look at it and say, ‘You know, that just makes sense,’” Gardenhire said. “It’s not a partisan issue, it’s a compassion issue.”
Still though, that the bill has bipartisan support in such a polarizing climate is a good sign for it.
“We need to do everything that we possibly can to assist in this vital transition because most of the people who serve time in our jails and our prisons re-enter society,” Clemmons said.
On a scale of 1 to 10, Gardenhire wouldn’t say exactly how confident he is.
“I can only tell you what I think will happen in the Senate,” he said. “I think it will get out of Judiciary Committee, if I’m still on the Judiciary Committee. We don’t know what the Speaker is going to do.”
Generally, assignments for each committee will be revealed closer to the new session’s commencement on Jan. 10.