Washington State Moves to Prevent Arrest Over Debt

Over the past few years there have been some pockets of the country where some people have been issued arrest warrants for contempt of court over some debt collection legal cases. See Does Debtors Jail Exist in the 21st Century or is this a Scare Tactic Used by Creditors and Indiana Closes Debtors’ Prison in Vanderburgh County.

The practice is wrong.

The State of Washington is moving a proposed law through their legislature that would address this issue.

State Rep. Derek Stanford, D-Bothell, had introduced a bill to end what he called “modern debtors’ prison.” On Thursday, the House approved his amended bill, HB 1864, which cleared the Senate earlier this week. The bill, which is supported by the collection industry trade group, now goes to the governor for her signature. Stanford said he doesn’t anticipate any problems there.

The bill would not bar collection agencies from asking judges to issue civil bench warrants for the arrest of debtors who fail to show up for hearings, which Stanford originally sought to do. But it would prohibit collectors from seizing jailed debtors’ bail money to pay off the debt. In addition, it would require more detailed notice to debtors, and would increase the amount of personal assets exempt from garnishment. The asset exemptions for bank accounts and securities would not apply to collection actions by state agencies for six years.

But attorneys who represent debtors say incarcerating civil debtors, even briefly, is abusive, unfair, and often legally flawed. They say collectors are using the bench warrants as a way of harassing and pressuring people who often owe less than $2,000 and whose debts frequently arise from unpaid medical bills.- Source


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Steve Rhode
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