RICHMOND — The Senate passed legislation on Friday that would repeal a current state law that suspends the Virginia driver’s license of anyone who doesn’t promptly pay court fines or costs unrelated to driving offenses.
The Senate passed SB 1013 sponsored by Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin, on a 36-4 vote. Stanley estimates more than 600,000 people in Virginia have suspended driver’s licenses.
“What we’re doing is disproportionately punishing the poor,” Stanley said on the floor.
This is the second time Stanley has introduced this bill, which heads to the House of Delegates. Gov. Ralph Northam has signaled support for ending the practice.
The bill would require the DMV to reinstate driver’s licenses that had been suspended solely for this reason before July 1, 2019, the expected day of enactment.
“What this has created in effect is a debtor’s prison,” Stanley said. “Those who cannot pay their fines most certainly lose their license. Then they cannot drive, and then they lose their jobs, then the fine grows, then the debt grows and the despair grows.”
Sen. Bryce Reeves, R-Spotsylvania, a retired police officer, voted in favor of the bill.
He said localities may not have reliable public transportation, and when drivers incur new fines, they can easily become buried in court debt.
“It’s just a vicious cycle,” he said.
The bill was amended in a committee to link its enactment with availability of funds in the state budget.
Northam has included $8.9 million in his proposed budget revisions to replace funding for trauma centers that have received money from the fees the state Department of Motor Vehicles charges for reinstating suspended drivers’ licenses.
Almost 1 million Virginians have had their drivers licenses suspended as a result of failure to pay court fines and fees on time.
The Roanoke Times January 25, 2019