Thousands of Virginians Getting their Licenses Reinstated

Angela Battle: one of thousands of Virginians to have their license restored. Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Some 37,700 Virginians who couldn’t drive yesterday can drive today, thanks to a budget amendment to Virginia’s Fiscal 2020 budget, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch. More than 600,000 drivers have suspended licenses because a failure to pay court fines and costs, creating a Catch 22 situation for thousands: People can’t repay their fines if they can’t drive to work, and they can’t drive to work if they can’t repay their fines. The Department of Motor Vehicles will contact other Virginians with suspended licenses to inform them how to get their licenses back.

Randy Rollins, president of the Drive-to-Work nonprofit that helps people get their drivers licenses reinstated, has tried unsuccessfully for the past 10 years to get the law changed, but Governor Ralph Northam was able to enact the new policy, for a year at least, by means of a budget amendment.

Kudos to Northam. The new policy represents a victory for common sense. Unlike many phony issues ginned up by social justice advocates, the suspended license issue is real, not a figment of misleading, cherry-picked statistics. The reform is a pro-work policy that removes an obstacle that hinders people — usually lower-income Virginians, disproportionately minorities — from becoming productive members of society.

The initiative may create another problem — getting people to pay their court fines and fees. That, too, is a real issue, and it must be dealt with. But in the grand scheme of things, it is far less consequential matter in our autocentric society than depriving people of the means to get to work.

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7 responses to “Thousands of Virginians Getting their Licenses Reinstated

  1. Questions I want to see answered as this goes forward: how many licenses are really restored, given that many people also lose them for cause (really bad driving, not just unpaid fines) and this restoration process still requires taking some actions. If someone fails to take those steps and is stopped again, are tickets for no-O.L. still being written? How many were written June 30?

    How many people on payment plans now stop paying – one of my old clients has told me of a letter he got from a debtor saying he wasn’t paying any more. Will removal of this sanction cause any change in the underlying fines and costs? I suspect those will now rise again – milking more money from the majority who simply pay the ticket and move on. The actual movement should be to lower fines, fewer costs imposed. Won’t happen now.

    Does public transit see a blip down in ridership? Not every person was totally deprived of a way to work.

    This is an entire graduate course in the law of unintended consequences.

    • Your questions are totally legitimate, and we need to track the consequences of this action.

    • I’m curious how Northam’s directive deals with those questions. My understanding has been that licenses were being restored ONLY to those whose continuing suspension was solely due to inability to pay the court costs and fines — that is, excluding those whose initial suspension (if any) for reckless driving, intoxicated driving, etc. were for a time, say 30 days, and that time has run out.

    • Correction: . . . time has NOT run out.

  2. The provision applies only to persons whose licenses were suspended solely for failure to pay fines, costs, etc. Here is the exact budget language:

    In the second year, notwithstanding the provisions of § 46.2-395 of the Code of Virginia, no court shall suspend any person’s privilege to drive a motor vehicle solely for failure to pay any fines, courtcosts, forfeitures, restitution, or penalties assessed against such person. The Commissioner of the Department of Motor Vehicles shall reinstate a person’s privilege to drive a motor vehicle that was suspended prior to July 1, 2019, solely pursuantto § 46.2-395 of the Code of Virginia and shall waive all fees relating to reinstating such person’s driving privileges. Nothing herein shall require the Commissioner to reinstate a person’s driving privileges if such privileges have been otherwise lawfully suspended or revoked or if such person is otherwise ineligible for a driver’s license.

    What I don’t understand is why the Governor did not use the budget to simply repeal outright the Code section requiring the suspension of drivers licenses. He certainly used the budget bill to make other substantive Code changes.

  3. Thanks Dick – for bringing facts to deal with conjecture!

  4. Legislate in the budget? That never happens, Dick! Well, it didn’t used to….

    My expectation is that a year from now there remain quite a few people who have no O.L. for whatever reason, have not taken advantage of this if it applies, keep driving unlawfully and keep deepening their court debts, and we’re kind of back where we started. But I’ll wait to see….Certainly government is GREAT at solving these kinds of problems! I spent many years working this issue for the collector law firms and my personal conclusion was the fines are too high and the government too addicted to the money. That’s why negotiated settlements were never considered.

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