State officials around the country are taking steps to waive fees for certain drivers with suspended licenses to allow them to get back on the road legally.
Advocates say such action incentivizes individuals to legally reinstate their license, keep their insurance coverage, and to prevent them from continuing to drive on a suspended license. Critics say the action effectively gives affected drivers the freedom to disregard traffic rules due to their exemption from possible monetary penalties.
Tennessee bill follows court decision
A Tennessee state lawmaker has filed a bill for consideration during the upcoming regular session that would cancel a program to revoke peoples’ driver’s licenses for failure to pay traffic tickets.
The bill from Rep. Larry Miller, D-Memphis, would put into statute a recent decision by a federal judge barring the state from revoking licenses based on unpaid court costs. Specifically, the change is intended to aid indigent people – those who do not have the money to pay to have their license reinstated.
Last month’s ruling by U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger is estimated to affect up to 290,000 people with suspended licenses.
As the order states, Miller’s legislation – HB6 – follows suit to bar future suspensions if the violator provides proof of their inability to pay traffic fines. People who already had their license suspended would be required to ask the state to reinstate their driving privileges.
New Ohio law provides amnesty
The action comes on the heels of an Ohio law that creates a short-term traffic violation amnesty program. The six-month program is designed to help indigent Ohioans with suspended licenses who are unable to afford the reinstatement fee or fines they received throughout their license suspension. Offenses involving alcohol, drugs or deadly weapon charges would not be eligible for the amnesty program.
Eligibility requirements for a fee reduction or waiver include:
- The individual’s suspension has been in effect for at least 18 months.
- The individual is indigent.
- The individual has completed all court-ordered sanctions other than paying the reinstatement fee.
“It is our goal to create a reasonable, practical, and measured attempt to make sure that Ohioans are legal to drive with a valid driver’s license and insurance while driving through our neighborhoods and on our interstates,” Rep. Dave Greenspan, R-Westlake, said in prepared remarks.
Texas bill to repeal fees
Elsewhere, state lawmakers in Texas are working on legislation to repeal the state’s Driver Responsibility Program.
The program adds surcharges to drivers who receive certain violations or multiple violations, such as speeding and driving with a suspended license. The program doubles as a source of revenue for emergency trauma centers in the state.
Multiple efforts underway at the state capitol would repeal the program that requires offenders to pay fees annually for three years.
Michigan law eliminates fees
The effort at the Texas statehouse follows action taken earlier this year by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder to repeal his state’s driver responsibility fees. In effect since Oct. 1, the new law is touted to forgive nearly $650 million in debt owed by about 350,000 Michigan drivers.
Michigan drivers who lost their driving privileges due to unpaid fees can no apply for reinstatement with the state. Affected drivers who apply before the end of the year will have the $125 reinstatement fee waived.
“This legislation was intended to make all drivers more accountable, but all it really did was punish our citizens and make it harder for men and women to find work and keep their jobs,” stated Sen. Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive.
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