By Trimmel Gomes, Public News Service - FL
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - The Florida Legislature could end the state's practice of suspending the licenses of people driving with unpaid fines and fees.
About two million people in the state have had their driver's licenses suspended for nonpayment of traffic tickets or toll violations, criminal citations and other court fees.
Some contend they're being penalized for, as they would put it, "driving while poor" - and Naples Republican Rep. Byron Donalds says his bill will would give those in need a much-needed break.
"There is a time period to actually work with the clerks to create a payment plan that makes sense for the people of our state," says Donalds. "So they can make their payments, keep their license from being suspended and accumulating points. Keep them on the road so they can go to work, pick up their kids, so on and so forth. That's what we're trying to do."
The Senate version was reviewed Tuesday in a workshop held by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Concerns were raised by court clerks and comptrollers since the fees are divvied up for various government functions.
If passed, Florida would join six other states that have eliminated their driver's license suspension penalties.
A study by the national Fines and Fees Justice Center shows the fees adversely and disproportionately affect the poor and people of color. Donalds says he's hearing nothing but excitement from those who've been affected.
"People just want to have an opportunity to get their fees under control," says Donalds. "They want to be able to keep their licenses, so they're not driving around in fear and being concerned about having their license suspended for other reasons."
The legislation would not delete suspensions for several statutes directly related to traffic offenses - such as Driving Under the Influence, and the accrual of points for unsafe driving. Nor would it remove suspensions for nonpayment of child support.
Donalds says he's working with stakeholders and fellow lawmakers to find ways to compromise with local governments.