Georgia task force proposes changes to state’s garnishment law

ATLANTA — A Georgia Joint House-Senate Task Force on Garnishment Reform has drafted legislation rewriting Georgia’s code related to garnishment.

The rewrite comes after a U.S. District Court judge of the Northern District of Georgia on Sept. 8, 2015, held that certain provisions of Georgia’s existing garnishment law violated the due process rights of those whose property was subject to garnishment. While the order itself was limited to the facts of that case because the lawsuit was brought against the clerk of court in Gwinnett County, due process issues needed to be resolved for the entire chapter, so that garnishments in Georgia would not be in jeopardy going forward.

The bill itself restructures the current garnishment sections to modernize, reorganize, and provide constitutional protections in garnishment proceedings. The bill also makes the language of the statute more coherent, as required by the District Court’s ruling. It makes the law easier for individuals to understand how to participate in garnishment proceedings and claim exemptions, proponents contend.

“A complete rewrite of this chapter was necessary, because the notice issues, while limited to the facts of that case, were issues that extended pervasively throughout the chapter,” Rep. Wendell Willard, R-Sandy Springs, said in a news release. “It was time that we updated the language in that section to make it more coherent and user friendly.”

Additionally, the bill empowers the Office of the Attorney General to maintain on its website a complete list of exemptions and partial exemptions for those facing garnishments. The bill also provides specific procedures that will only be applicable to financial institutions to avoid confusion. The bill further provides definitions and forms that are to be used in garnishment proceedings.

“Earlier this year, a federal court ruled that key portions of Georgia’s garnishment statute were unconstitutional,” Sen. Jesse Stone, R-Waynesboro, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Non-Civil Committee, said in a news release. “Georgia’s law failed to provide notice of the availability of exemptions, how exemptions could be claimed and provide an expedited method for ruling on exemptions. It is up to the General Assembly to fix the problem and modernize and improve the garnishment process in Georgia.”

Stone pre-filed Senate Bill 255-PF. The legislation was drafted by the task force so that it can be reviewed by the public prior to the start of the upcoming session, which will convene Jan. 11.

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