By: Brian Doherty for Reasons Magazine
Florida State Sen. Jeff Brandes of District 22 has offered a very helpful bill to ease the problem-a problem reported about by me here at Reason back in February 2014 for Florida specifically, and in December 2014 nationally -of less well-to-do citizens losing their ability to drive (and thus often to work with any sort of convenience without breaking the law) over offenses that have nothing to do with their demonstrated ability to safely manage a motor vehicle.
Key part of the bill, (SB 7046):
Notwithstanding any other law, a person's driver 534 license may not be suspended solely for failure to pay a penalty 535 or court obligation if the person demonstrates to the court, 536 after receiving the penalty and prior to the suspension taking 537 place, that he or she is unable to pay the penalty or court 538 obligation. A person is considered unable to pay if the person 539 provides documentation to the appropriate clerk of court 540 evidencing that: 541 (a) The person receives reemployment assistance or 542 unemployment compensation pursuant to chapter 443; 543 (b) The person is disabled and incapable of self-support or 544 receives benefits under the federal Supplemental Security Income 545 program or Social Security Disability Insurance program; 546 (c) The person receives temporary cash assistance pursuant 547 to chapter 414; 548 (d) The person is making payments in accordance with a 549 confirmed bankruptcy plan under chapter 11, chapter 12, or 550 chapter 13 of the United States Bankruptcy Code, 11 U.S.C. ss. 551 101 et seq.; 552 (e) The person has been placed on a payment plan or payment 553 plans with the clerk of court which in total exceed what is 554 determined to be a reasonable payment plan pursuant to s. 555 28.246(4); or 556 (f) The person has been determined to be indigent after 557 filing an application with the clerk in accordance with s. 27.52 558 or s. 57.082.
It's a start, though frankly even with those restrictions many people will doubtless be unjustly forced into penury or inability to work by silly license suspensions, given the paperwork hurdles inherent in all the above. Still, it's a start, as are the slight limitations from one year to 6-month suspension for certain drug related crimes. (Which should, justly, have zero effect on one's being licensed to drive, but...baby steps, I suppose.)
Some other details of the bill, from Brandes' office press release:
"This legislation will help thousands of Floridians who are caught in a relentless cycle of debt within the legal system. This bill will reduce a major burden on our courts from license suspensions, and it will give many Floridians a means to get back to work."
...The bill establishes an alternative system for sanctions for the more than 1.2 million driver license suspensions annually.
SPB 7046 removes suspension and revocation penalties for certain non-driving-related offenses. Individuals who would have their licenses suspended today for many financial related issues will instead be issued a hardship license. The reform package also reforms a controversial surcharge in law for fines or fees which are sent to collections, and clearly establishes the right of a defendant in financial hardship to enter into community service as an alternative method of payment. Finally, the bill eliminates the felony criminal charge for a third or subsequent driving while license is suspended or revoked resulting from a defendant's inability to pay a fine or fee.
Fox13News out of Tampa with a report on the bill, and three stories of people's livelihoods unjustly screwed up by casual license suspension. Florida suspended 578,000 licenses last year just over unpaid fees.