A month ago, the Miami Herald reported that most Florida motorists whose drivers licenses were suspended in recent years simply failed to pay fines, not because of driving while under the influence citations.
Failure to pay such fees accounted for 77 percent of all license suspensions from 2012 through 2015, the paper learned. The story showed how Miami-Dade County’s bank accounts have benefited from the new revenue. The trend, though, has led to a crushing cycle of consequences for those who can’t or don’t pay such fines that leads to more fees, tickets, criminal charges and sometimes even jail
St. Petersburg state Sen. Jeff Brandes read that story, and said he thinks the state’s policy on driver license suspensions is broken. Far too many Florida residents are losing their driving privileges for reasons unrelated to their driving behavior, said. In a letter to members of the Senate Transportation Committee, which he chairs, he writes, “This pressing problem requires a complete and thorough review by the Legislature.”
He has scheduled a discussion on the issue when the Legislature returns to Tallahassee next week for committee hearings in the run-up to the 2016 Session. He’s scheduled next Wednesday for representatives from the Florida Department of Highway Safety & Motor Vehicles to discuss the driver license suspensions before his committee. It will also hear from representatives of the Florida Association of Court Clerks and Comptrollers as well as the Florida Public Defender Association.
In addition, he has opened the meeting for any state senators to attend.
In the Herald story, Miami-Dade Judge Steve Leifman, who presides over traffic and criminal cases, says the suspensions are so frequent now that county officials consider it more like an extra tax than a public safety measure. “We’re putting an additional tax burden on a group of individuals that can’t afford it,” Leifman told the paper. It’s “criminalizing their behavior when all they did was commit a civil infraction and didn’t have the money to pay it.”