Senator Treat sponsors bill to limit wage garnishment provisions

 State Senator Greg Treat of Oklahoma City is advancing a proposal to limit the circumstances in which wages can be garnished (withheld from a worker) through court order aimed at employers. (Editor’s note: Late yesterday the bill had been filed but CapitolBeatOK did not yet have a number. We will insert the Senate Bill number into this story later.) The bill from the first-term Republican would leave untouched provisions allowing garnishment for child and spousal support. In related news, two Democratic legislators are pushing a bill to give the state new wage garnishment powers.

Treat’s bill would amend 12 O.S. 2011, sec. 1171. As introduced yesterday, the bill “relates to the right to garnishment, prohibiting garnishment of certain wages, [and] providing exceptions.”

In an interview with CapitolBeatOK, Treat described his measure as “real straight-forward.” During his years as an aide to U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn of Muskogee, Treat said he learned “there was a simmering complaint among businessmen, especially small businesses, who were having to help pay off debt that had nothing to do with them or their business.”

He related instances of small business people “without staff other than themselves and their workers.” He made a succinct philosophical argument outlining concerns over business diversion from productivity. Growth of payday loan companies has seemed to exacerbate concerns among business people, he said, and shared complaints he has heard from employers receiving “threatening letters from attorneys” about wage garnishment disagreements.

Sen. Treat candidly acknowledged this might be the start of “an uphill battle, perhaps a multi-year discussion.” Still, he told CapitolBeatOK, there is a scattered base of support that could form into a coalition. He believes, however, “a lot of players will come out of the woodwork to oppose this.”

For himself, Treat said he has “no ax to grind. I just am concerned about a burden placed on an employer over a private contract outside of their control.” He noted that Texas already excludes commercial debts from wage garnishment provisions.

The key language change in existing state law proposed in Sen. Treat’s bill, would be:

“No wages shall be subject to garnishment, except for the enforcement of court-ordered child support payments or spousal maintenance, state or federal taxes, federal student loans, or any other debt as required by federal law.”

In related news, S.B. 1019, by Sen. Earl Garrison of Muskogee and state Rep. Jeannie McDaniel of Tulsa, both Democrats, would allow public housing authorities to file claims with the Oklahoma Tax Commissions, as a means to deduct from personal income tax refunds debts owed by tenants.

In a release sent to CapitolBeatOK, the pair of advocates pointed to the state’s two largest cities to support their arguments for a new law. The Tulsa Housing Authority has accrued more than $5.5 million in unpaid rent and damages in its units over several years; the Oklahoma Housing Authority has $575,000 in uncollected debt from 2010 and 2011.