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With Northam’s amendment, nonpayment of court fines and costs won’t suspend driving privileges

Governor Ralph Northam today, March 26, has announced an amendment to the enrolled budget that will eliminate the suspension of driving privileges for nonpayment of court fines and costs. This amendment would also reinstate driving privileges for the more than 627,000 Virginians who currently have their licenses suspended.

“The practice of suspending a person’s driver’s license for nonpayment of court fines and costs is inequitable—it’s past time we end it,” Governor Northam was quoted as saying in a press release.. “A driver’s license is critical to daily life, including a person’s ability to maintain a job. Eliminating a process that envelops hundreds of thousands of Virginians in a counterproductive cycle is not only fair, it’s also the right thing to do.”

During the 2019 legislative session, Governor Northam proposed Senate Bill 1613, carried by Senator Adam Ebbin, and House Bill 2488, carried by Delegate Alfonso Lopez to address this issue. Governor Northam also included funding in his budget to address potential lost revenue from reinstatement fees to the Department of Motor Vehicles and the Trauma Center Fund. While these bills ultimately failed, the funding remained in the budget.

When suspends a driver’s license, the person may obey the suspension and potentially lose the ability to provide for his or her family, “or drive anyway and face further punishment, and even imprisonment, for driving while suspended,” according to Brian Moran, Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security.

Moran further explained his support for the governor’s actions: “This not only further entangles someone in our criminal justice system, but it also places a greater burden on law enforcement and our criminal justice system to enforce and prosecute these offenses.”

“It is long overdue for Virginia to end this destructive policy, which targets people in poverty and prevents them not only from paying their debts, but also from taking care of their essential basic needs, and the health and welfare of their children and families,”  Senator Bill Stanley was quoted as saying in the news release.. “I want to thank Governor Northam for making my legislation a part of his amendments to the 2019 Virginia budget.”

“Suspending a driver’s license for a non-driving offense is ineffective and has broadly negative consequences for Virginians,” according to Senator Adam Ebbin in the news release. “Unwarranted license suspension disproportionately impacts the most economically-disadvantaged Virginians without making our communities safer.”

“Many Virginia residents rely upon their driver’s licenses to get to work and complete other necessary daily tasks,” according to Delegate Alfonso Lopez. “Taking away someone’s driver’s license can be devastating for a family’s economic security—to do this to people who have already demonstrated an inability to pay court fees and fines is cruel and counterproductive. After working on this issue for years, I’m very happy that this action…to eliminate this practice in the Commonwealth is being taken today,” Lopez said in the news release.

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