Nearly $30 million in restitution is owed to victims of crime in York County, and Clerk of Courts Don O'Shell said more than 80 percent of that is delinquent.
While crime victims wait for the money due to them by court order, the county has few tools to prompt payment from defendants, he said.
Restitution includes expenses such as medical treatment needed as the result of drunk driving crashes and property damaged by vandals.
It can range from hundreds to tens of thousands of dollars, depending on the case.
State Rep. Keith Gillespie, R-Hellam Township, said O'Shell's testimony inspired new legislation he authored to allow Pennsylvania's courts to suspend the driver's license of any defendant failing to pay full restitution to victims of driving-related offenses.
The legislation unanimously passed the state House recently and is ready for debate in the state Senate.
Current law requires payments made by a defendant to be split between restitution and court costs. Sometimes, though, there's a restitution balance after court costs are paid.
In such cases, O'Shell said, the county has no means of collection beyond sending notices and forwarding
the debt to a collection agency, which can affect the defendant's credit.
Stiffing victims: There's no time limit by which restitution must be paid, but defendants owe it as long as they're alive, O'Shell said.
In most cases, O'Shell's office agrees to a payment amount, typically about $40 per month, and some debts aren't paid off in the life of the defendant, he said.
Some people don't pay anything for years, but the courts can't impose a wage attachment for restitution, so paying is "essentially voluntary," O'Shell said.
He said he's optimistic that, if passed, the driver's license suspension will compel payment because it has a real impact on people's lives.
The victims, who at times have hospital bills and other expenses for which they're responsible, are entitled to the money, he said.
"We need to make victims whole and get them what is owed to them," he said.
The bill would add restitution to a section of the Pennsylvania Vehicle Code, which deals with suspension of driving privileges and currently prevents a defendant's driver's license from being suspended once court costs and state fines on a driver-related offense have been paid.
-- Reach Christina Kauffman at 505-5436, ckauffman@yorkdis patch.com, or follow her on Twitter at @YDYork County.