The General Assembly spiked bills in the 2019 session that would have ended the practice of suspending the drivers licenses of Virginians who fail to pay court fines and other obligations unrelated to driving. Without some kind of repercussion, foes of the bills argued, those obligations often would go unpaid.
Now Governor Ralph Northam is proposing to use the budget as an end run around the failed legislation. He is adding an amendment to the budget bill to end the licenses-suspension practice and reinstate driving privileges for more than 600,000 Virginians.
“Having a driver’s license is essential to a person’s ability to maintain a job and provide for their families,” Northam said at a press conference yesterday. “It is especially pertinent to those that live in rural Virginia because we don’t have public transportation that is adequate to get to employment.”
Halting the suspension of drivers licenses for offenses not related to driving has gained strong bipartisan support in recent years. The practice creates a Catch-22 situation for hundreds of thousands of Virginians: They don’t pay their court penalties or child support obligations, so they lose their licenses. If they can’t drive, it becomes much more difficult to get to work and maintain a job. Without a job, the prospect of repaying their fines becomes even more remote. Or, if they continue to drive illegally, they run the prospect of racking up more penalties and fines.
Bacon’s bottom line: This is the single most important reform the state can make to help Virginia’s working poor. Public policy should aim to make it easier, not more difficult, for people to work, earn money, and meet their obligations. If there’s one thing everyone across the ideological spectrum can agree upon, it’s that we want people to become more employable and self-sufficient. I whole-heartedly support this goal.
However, let’s be realistic. Restoring drivers’ licenses will create a new set of issues. Those who oppose the reform do have a point: The world is full of scofflaws, and the courts will lose a tool for collecting fines and penalties. Mechanisms need to be created that allow poor people to repay fines and penalties over time. If they fail, or simply refuse, to meet their obligations, courts need sanctions of a different kind. What those are, I don’t know. But we don’t want to solve one endemic injustice by creating another.There are currently no comments highlighted.