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Proposed Senate bill could shift wage garnishment away from county sheriffs

One bill recently re-introduced to the legislature this past week could possibly shift some responsibilities of the state’s county sheriffs into the hands of private attorneys.

“When you have a lawsuit and the judge has ruled, it is the sheriff that will go and pick up the cars, it’s the sheriff that will go and sell the property, ti’s the sheriff that will go and garnish your wages,” Bannock County Sheriff Lorin Nielsen explained.

The Idaho sheriffs have been responsible for managing wage garnishment for more than 150 years, but that could soon change if this proposed bill backed by attorneys across the state passes.

Nielsen said sheriffs from across the state met in September and voted unanimously against the bill.

“This effort in front of the legislature right now is to authorize attorneys to actually go out and serve those garnishments on employers and collect that money on behalf of their clients,” Pocatello attorney Craig Parrish said.

Parrish supports the bill because he believes this will be a more efficient way of collecting the money and reparations owed to their clients after the trial. Some attorneys feel as if a number of sheriffs already have their hands full and find it hard to make time to focus on handling this issue.

This bill was initially introduced by Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls in 2012, but never made it past the Senate.

“In fact, the vast majority of times, they (who owe money) just pay it and it’s good,” Parrish said. “the problem is those that don’t pay. If there’s any kind of fight at all with the employer, the sheriff’s office just throws up their hands and says, ‘sorry, we tried.'”

However, Sheriff Nielsen said it is in his best interest and the best interest of the parties involved to keep the status quo of the system.

“I don’t think the demographics and the geography of Idaho is to the point where we need to start diminishing the power of Sheriff and start handing that off to what I would consider people that have a dog in the fight,” Nielsen said.

He said sheriffs act as third-party jurors in this situation, unlike attorneys who could possibly make a profit from the wage garnishment fees. Instead, all of these fees paid forth get recycled back into the county.

In 2012, these fees accounted for $168,817 of Bannock County’s earnings. This year, the county projects slightly less earnings to the tune of $151,000.

He added that if money is lost from this source of revenue, and does not want to see the government start earning this at the expense of the taxpayers.

“I am saying that it’s not broken and I don’t think it needs to be fixed,” Nielsen said.

However, the bill has not yet even been written, and so it will still take some time before either side sees any decisions made.

Follow Kaitlin on Twitter: @KaitlinLoukides

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