Maryland Enacts New Law Ending Debt-Based Driver’s License Suspensions
Coronavirus Crisis Heightens Urgency of Ending License Suspensions For “Driving While Broke” Nationwide
Maryland AG Brian E. Frosh: “We Should Not Penalize Marylanders For Being Poor”
“In Maryland, tens of thousands of people have lost the privilege to drive due to fee-based driver’s license suspensions,” said Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh. “We should not penalize Marylanders for being poor – limiting their ability to get to work, to doctor’s appointments, or to pick children up from school. Working with advocates and members of the General Assembly, we were able to restore the right to work for many Marylanders and end a policy that disproportionately impacted people of color and lower income.”
Nationally, at least 11 million people currently have their driver’s license suspended — not for dangerous driving, but simply because they can’t afford to pay exorbitant fines and fees for minor infractions like traffic tickets.
Neighboring Virginia and West Virginia also passed similar bills this year to stop suspending driver’s licenses for unpaid fines and fees. In the previous three years, five other U.S. states — Texas, Montana, Idaho, California and Mississippi — and Washington, D.C., have enacted reforms to end debt-based license suspensions.
Legislators in 12 more states — Alabama, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin — also introduced similar bills this year. Several of these bills appeared likely to pass, until Covid-19 brought state legislative sessions to an abrupt halt.
“For far too long, Maryland’s policies and programs have criminalized poverty by tying driver’s licenses to unrelated fines and fees,” said Marceline White, Executive Director of the Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition. “Advocates in Maryland have been decrying this problem for years. This legislation is an important first step in reducing this vicious cycle of penalizing poor Marylanders and will enable people to get to work and repay their fines with dignity.”
In March, FFJC released COVID-19 Policy Recommendations to help stem the economic and public health harms of the coronavirus crisis. Among the 12 recommendations: placing a moratorium on debt-based driver’s license suspensions. In the last two months, dozens of state and local jurisdictions across the U.S. made many of these policy changes, which FFJC is tracking and updating daily.
“Taking away people’s licenses simply for driving-while-broke is bad for the economy, bad for public safety, and disastrous for so many families,” said Priya Sarathy Jones, National Campaign Director at the Fines and Fees Justice Center. “Now, more than ever, other U.S. states should follow Maryland’s lead and take urgent action to stop this vicious cycle of poverty and punishment.”