Thousands of Mississippi drivers with suspended driver’s licenses regained the right to drive with the adoption of a new state policy. Lawmakers in Mississippi are following a nationwide movement to end driver’s license suspensions for non-driving offenses.
Dec. 19 changes to Mississippi law prevent drivers who cannot pay court fines and overdue fees from losing their driving privileges. The new policy’s aim is to lessen the number of drivers operating vehicles with suspended licenses. Furthermore, advocates of the change want people to be able to drive to work in order to pay off their debts.
This month, the Mississippi Department of Public Safety (DPS) is sending letters to over 100,000 drivers with suspended licenses, letting them know they may reinstate their privileges. While the state will waive the $100 reinstatement fee, all previously owed dues will not be absolved for these drivers.
The policy change was recently announced at the University of Mississippi School of Law by officials from the DPS, nonprofit legal aid Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), and civil rights law firm Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center.
“We commend the state of Mississippi for taking steps to ensure that in the future, no one will lose their license if the only reason they failed to pay a traffic ticket is that they simply did not have enough money,” said Sam Brooke, SPLC deputy legal director. “We also welcome Mississippi’s decision to reinstate licenses that had been previously suspended because people were unable to pay.”
The policy change only impacts drivers who are unable to pay their court fees in good faith, DPS officials pointed out.
“Driver’s licenses will continue to be suspended for all other reasons available under Mississippi law, including but not limited to suspension pursuant to a court order finding a driver in contempt for failure to pay a fine or fee or failure to respond to a traffic summons or citation,” said Marshall Fisher, director of the Mississippi DPS.
Mississippi’s decision was on trend for 2017: policymakers in various states, including Ohio and Pennsylvania, proposed or passed new laws barring license suspensions for nonpayment of fines and fees or for non-driving-related offenses.