Coronavirus Crisis: FFJC Calls on Florida Policymakers to Stop Debt-Based Driver’s License Suspensions
In Response to COVID-19, Some Florida Counties Have Halted Debt-Based License Suspensions
Dozens of State and Local Jurisdictions Across U.S. Enacting Emergency Measures to Protect Economy and Public Health
The Fines and Fees Justice Center (FFJC) is calling on Florida’s Chief Judges, Clerks of Court, and Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles to immediately end collections of fines, fees, and court debt and stop suspending driver’s licenses for unpaid fines and fees.
“People across Florida have lost their jobs. Dollars are scarce. The last thing people should be worrying about now is how they are going to pay their court fines and fees, or what could happen if their driver’s license was suspended,” said Ashley Thomas, Florida State Director at the Fines and Fees Justice Center. “Families are increasingly struggling to make ends meet — taking away their ability to legally drive isn’t going to help that.”
On March 9th, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis issued an executive order that provided local government and state agencies the ability to temporarily suspend enforcement of statutes or policies that would adversely impact the ability for individuals in Florida to cope with COVID-19 during this state of emergency.
Some Florida judges have already implemented measures to address the fallout of COVID-19. Palm Beach has stopped suspending driver’s licenses for unpaid fines and fees. In the 10th Circuit, covering Hardee, Highlands and Polk Counties, the Chief Judge issued an administrative order to extend payment deadlines. In Broward County, payment deadlines and driver’s license suspensions are on pause.
County clerks have also implemented policy changes in response to COVID-19. The Clerks of Court in Hillsborough, Pinellas, and Osceola Counties extended financial due dates for all criminal and traffic cases for an additional 60 days. Indian River stopped suspending driver’s licenses and temporarily stopped sending unpaid fines and fees to collections.
FFJC is calling for these policies to be broadened and implemented statewide so that no one is forced to risk their health and safety to meet a payment deadline. FFJC is calling for the following five policies to be implemented immediately throughout Florida for a minimum of 60 days, or longer as needed:
- End all collection of fines, fees, and court debt.
- Stop sending delinquent cases to private collection companies and instruct companies to immediately cease collection efforts.
- Waive late fees for missed payments of fines, fees, and court debt.
- Suspend interest on unpaid fines, fees, and court debt.
- Immediately cease suspending driver’s licenses for unpaid fines or fees.
Dozens of state and local jurisdictions across the U.S. have implemented these and other similar measures. FFJC has also released a set of 12 nationwide COVID-19 recommendations and the organization is tracking policy changes in response to COVID-19.
“Now is the time for people to focus on keeping themselves and their families safe,” added Thomas. “Forcing people to pay court debt or taking away their driver’s licenses at a time like this could be devastating.”