Recently, legislators in a variety of states have pushed to stop the suspension of driver’s licenses for crimes not committed behind the steering wheel.
For the third year in a row, Florida Senator Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) is advancing legislation, Senate Bill 1270, which would end driver’s license suspension for certain non-driving offenses, and reduce the license suspension time for other charges, including drug-related convictions. On Jan. 18, the proposal unanimously passed through Florida’s Senate Transportation Committee.
“If you’re going to lose your driver’s license it should be for some type of driving-related offense—careless driving, obviously, or multiple tickets where clearly you’re a danger on the road,” Brandes said. “Not as a penalty for skipping school or underage smoking.”
Currently, Floridians can lose their driving privileges for a variety of reasons. In 2014, 167,000 Florida motorists lost their driving privileges for non-driving infractions. Instances of suspension include, but are not limited to, failure to pay court fines (70,216), failure to pay child support (68,223), drug-related convictions (19,024), and non-compliance with school attendance (4,020), according to a report from the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability (OPPAGA).
In addition to eradicating license suspension for some non-driving charges, Brandes' bill could also reduce the maximum license suspension for a drug-related crime from one year to six months; and in cases where licenses are suspended, the bill would make it easier for a convict to obtain a hardship license.
The legislation would also require judges to ask about a person’s financial stability, set up a payment plan, or assign community service before imposing any fines.
Presently, a person's inability to pay court fines is only exacerbated by the difficulties of maintaining a steady job with a suspended driver's license, Brandes argued.
“This places a huge burden on individuals,” Brandes said. “Many times they’re choosing whether to go to work or whether to honor a suspension, and that is not a place where we should put individuals.”
Other states like Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania have either passed similar bills, or are working on legislation to end some or all driver’s license suspensions for non-driving offenses. In Florida, SB 1270 is pending review by a second Senate committee.