Democratic Sen. Shevrin Jones has filed legislation that would add Florida to the list of states ending the practice of suspending individuals’ driver’s licenses as punishment for failure to pay certain court fines and fees.
Jones filed the bill (SB 870) Monday. So far, no House companion bill has been filed, but Jones tells Florida Politics he expects that to happen by the end of this week. He’s seeking a Republican co-sponsor to make the effort bipartisan, he said.
“It can’t get more bipartisan than this,” Jones said, arguing the issue affects bases of both Democrats and Republicans.
“A lot of them have licenses that are suspended, and many of them can’t pay it. And because they can’t pay it, some of them, they’re driving on suspended licenses.”
That leads to a cycle where individuals seeking to pay off certain fines and fees accumulated through criminal cases, traffic violations or other court proceedings can face hurdles getting to work. That makes it difficult to make those payments and can lock people into debt.
“Currently, there are nearly 2 million Floridians with suspended driver’s licenses, not because they are dangerous drivers, but because they cannot afford to pay their court fines and fees,” Jones said in a written statement Monday.
“Suspending a person’s license often takes away their ability to drive to work, attend medical appointments, and take their kids to school. Driver’s license suspensions due to failure to pay are counterproductive because as fees add up, people only become more trapped in a cycle of poverty. We should be helping Floridians get back on their feet again, not putting more barriers in the way when they are already down.”
Several states have recently approved bills removing driver’s license suspensions as a potential punishment for these violations. Jones said staffing shortages in the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (DMV) also led him to file his legislation.
“The DMV has made clear in the Transportation Committee that they are understaffed,” Jones told Florida Politics. “And so because they’re understaffed, we have lines that are out the door — specifically in South Florida — with people trying to get their licenses reinstated. But they can’t because that means they have to take a full day off from work, and sometimes they get to the license place and they don’t even get in.”
According to the bill’s language, drivers would also have their licenses automatically reinstated “if the only reason for the suspension was the failure to pay a financial obligation for a traffic infraction or for a criminal case and the person whose driver license was suspended pays the reinstatement fee.”
The legislation would take effect immediately upon being signed into law if it’s approved during next year’s Legislative Session.
“Florida has a responsibility to make sure that we’re not creating more barriers for people who want to do what’s right,” Jones said.
November 9, 2021 at 11:05 am
Great idea! Therefore, unlikely to happen as long as the crazy political fringe keeps running this state.
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