Mississippi garnishment law challenged as unconstitutional

Laws have many different origins. Some laws are "on the books" - they are promulgated and passed by the Legislature. Other laws evolve over time through cases pending before the court system, which is known as "case law." No matter the source, it is often difficult to quickly strike down or change existing Mississippi law.

One Mississippi law that is currently getting a lot of attention and that the community hopes to strike down is a law relating to garnishment. It is a 1930 law passed by the Legislature that permits the Mississippi Department of Revenue to garnish 100 percent of the wages of individuals working for the government, be it in an employee or government official. Specifically, the law is triggered when an individual fails to pay taxes. It permits the State to garnish an entire paycheck for someone accused of missed payments for taxes.

The law was apparently rarely enforced until recently, when a policeman and other government workers received paychecks for nothing. Now, such garnishment is garnering public attention and outcry. In fact, a lawsuit was recently filed that challenges the constitutionality of the law, arguing that it unfairly discriminates against state employees. Other challenges have been raised to the law as well, including that those who face wage garnishment cannot pay their bills or feed their families.

Wage garnishment has always been permissible. Specifically, it is the procedure by which an alleged debtor's earning are withheld in order to cover outstanding debts. The theory behind wage garnishment is that where there is an identifiable source of income, it should be directed to outstanding qualifying debts. In particular, unpaid taxes and child support obligations can trigger garnishment.

While garnishment may be permissible, it obviously can have devastating effects on the individual facing garnishment, including financial challenges. As the recently filed constitutional lawsuit shows, there are responses and defenses to garnishment.

Source: picayuneitem.com, "State could rethink overdue taxes law," Nov. 6, 2013

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