A huge victory for the drive-to-work movement: Governor Ralph Northam has announced plans to halt the practice of suspending driver’s licenses as a way to collect unpaid court fines and fees, reports the Washington Post.
In Virginia more than 276,000 licenses were suspended in 2017 alone. The practice creates a Catch-22 for the people, mostly poor and working class, who are affected. Judges revoke peoples’ licenses as incentive to pay court penalties. But without a license, many can’t work and earn the money to pay the penalties. Indeed, the problem compounds because people driving on suspended licenses often get stopped for unrelated traffic offenses and rack up even bigger fines. The system, in a word, is insane, and a bipartisan majority has come to see it for the policy folly that it is.
Sen. William M. Stanley Jr., R-Franklin, has submitted a bill that would end license suspensions for drivers who fail to pay fines and costs. Stanley praised Northam’s plan. “I’m glad that he’s thinking like me.”
The WaPo story did not detail how Northam would approach the problem.
There is one obvious concern. Courts need some kind of sanction for people who refuse to pay their court fines and fees. If jailing them makes no sense — they can’t pay back their penalties if they’re stewing in confinement — and if suspending their drivers’ licenses is self-defeating, what other alternatives are there? One possible partial solution is to make it easier for people living hand-to-mouth to work out long-term repayment plans. But there will always be scofflaws and free-riders, so there needs to be some kind of punishment for them.
Bacon’s bottom line: This is one of those rare issues where Republicans and Democrats, liberals, conservatives, and libertarians can all agree: As a society, we want to make it easier, not harder, for people to work for a living and meet their obligations. Ending the practice of suspending licenses is a big step in the right direction.
But legislation should not stop there. Unless they provide courts with some means of collecting fines and fees, lawmakers will empower the scofflaws and encourage contempt for the law.There are currently no comments highlighted.