KAKE NEWS INVESTIGATES: New Wichita Plan to Prevent Suspended Licenses

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WICHITA, Kan. (KAKE) -

For the last two weeks we've been telling you about the high numbers of Kansans with suspended driver's licenses, more than 213,000 in the state, about half of them in Sedgwick County and the City of Wichita.

Now we've learned about a new program in the City of Wichita designed to help drivers successfully pay off a traffic ticket no matter how much they owe or how little money they have.

"We either pay a fine or pay a bill to keep our light on and keep our house.  I mean, what are we going to do?" asked Daniel Lawrence.  

His is a story we've run across time and again in the last couple of  months, Kansans building up late fees and unpaid ticket fines because they simply couldn't afford to pay the original ticket, ending up with a suspended license.  Folks like Lawrence who now has to rely on his wife to drive him everywhere.

"There's got to be alternative ways for us to be able to pay off a fine," he said.

While most cities offer a payment plan, drivers complained to KAKE News Investigates that they often come with interest rates and many navigating the system told us if they missed a payment, they still lost their license.

"The judge will ask him what are you able to pay in a given month," said Nathan Emmorey, the Municipal Court Administrator for the City of Wichita.

Under his leadership, the city court is trying out a new Judicial Payment Plan Pilot (JP3), available only to drivers who come to court and speak with the judge.  

Based on that conversation, the judge will set up a payment schedule with a minimum monthly payment you can afford.  For example, $50 due ever third Friday of the month.

"If they make that $50 payment by the third Friday of each month, then they don't have to come (back) to court," Emmorey said.

If, for some reason, you can't pay, say you lost a job or a payday comes after the due date, just go back to court on that third Friday to explain what's happening.  

"That's an opportunity for the judge to hear their side as an individual and make a determination as to what should happen," Emmorey said.  "We want as much flexibility for that individual as possible to succeed."

Maybe the judge lowers your payment, or delays it.  The judge could also choose to offer community service  or the chance to take a workforce training course in lieu of payment.

"Because that's allowing people to get training to be successful and to be able to succeed in the court and elsewhere," explained Emmorey.

This new program starts with tickets written as of October 1st and an original court date of November 15th or later.

Emmorey started a similar program when he worked in Mobile, Alabama.  There, he says, it cut the number of people unable to pay their bills from hundreds to dozens on any given day.

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