Georgia lawmakers approve tougher penalties for unlicensed driving

| 4/23/2008

Two bills that are intended to crack down on illegal immigration in Georgia have moved to Gov. Sonny Perdue’s desk. The first would toughen penalties for driving without a license in the state while the other would allow police to seize vehicles.

The House approved a bill that would apply to people driving without a valid driver’s license, or a suspended or revoked license. Driving with an expired license would not apply. People who obtain legal licenses would have their cases dismissed.

Sen. John Wiles, R-Kennesaw, said the change is needed to strengthen rules in the state on unlicensed driving.

“Our current code allows unlicensed drivers a certain amount of leniency,” Wiles said in a written statement. “We need to let those who blatantly ignore the most basic laws of our state know that our laws are serious.”

Driving without a license or driving on a suspended, disqualified or revoked license could result in jail time ranging from two days to 12 months. Second or third offenses within five years would result in at least 10 days in jail and at least $1,000 fines. Subsequent offenses within five years would result in felony charges. Offenders would face one to five years in jail and fines up to $5,000.

The Senate agreed to changes in the House version of the bill – SB350 – and moved it to the governor’s desk.

Another measure on its way to Perdue’s desk would allow authorities to seize vehicles, including large trucks, from illegal immigrants. Sponsored by Rep. James Mills, R-Gainesville, the measure would allow law enforcement to take vehicles registered in the state that are involved in traffic violations or wrecks if they are driven by illegal immigrants.

The bill – HB978 – would provide for an impounded vehicle to be returned to the owner if it belongs to a person with a valid driver’s license.

Supporters say the bill would help improve safety on roads. Opponents say it would create an atmosphere of racial profiling in traffic stops. Others say the measure doesn’t provide due process for taking vehicles.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Georgia, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor