Labor, Faith, and Civil Rights Leaders Join Legislators Urging Gov. Cuomo to Sign Driver’s License Suspension Reform Act
10 U.S. States Recently Ended Debt-Based License Suspensions; No Governor Has Vetoed
At a press conference Thursday afternoon, legislators and labor, faith, and civil rights leaders called on Gov. Cuomo to sign the Driver’s License Suspension Reform Act, which was passed by the State Legislature in July.
The Driver’s License Suspension Reform Act would end New York’s widespread, counterproductive practice of suspending a person’s driver’s license when they can’t pay a traffic fine or answer a traffic ticket — which disproportionately impacts Black and brown communities and the communities hardest hit by COVID-19.
“Every day we wait to enact this bill into law, we’re continuing to unfairly and unjustly punish New Yorkers, in particular low-income and minority communities who are already struggling disproportionately from the COVID-19 crisis, both physically and financially,” said Senator Tim Kennedy, the bill’s Senate sponsor. “It’s time we stop criminalizing poverty and start affording people the opportunity to lift themselves up without the fear of spiraling into an excessive and overwhelming cycle of debt.”
Similar laws have already been enacted in 10 states from across the political spectrum, including Idaho, Mississippi, Montana and West Virginia. No governor has ever vetoed such a bill.
President-elect Joe Biden included debt-based driver’s license suspension reform in his campaign platform. Kamala Harris is a co-sponsor of the bipartisan Driving for Opportunity Act, which will provide grants to states that end debt-based license suspension.
“This is one of the most significant pieces of legislation that can be signed to address the adversity of the past year,” said Assemblymember Pamela Hunter, the bill’s Assembly sponsor. “This bill needs to be signed into law — and it needs to be signed without the Governor calling for amendments that negate the purpose of the bill.”
This bill would boost New York’s workforce and economy, while improving public safety. In a recent 28-month period, New York State issued 1.7 million license suspensions for traffic debt. Experts estimate the bill could eliminate as many as 10-15% cases from criminal court.
“This bill targets one of the key causes of systemic poverty, especially among people of color, and its intersection with the criminal justice system,” added Assemblymember Hunter. “Those with suspended licenses are severely undermined in their ability to ever pay an outstanding fine.”
Senator Kennedy and Assemblymember Hunter were joined at the press conference by Assemblymember Latrice Walker, who spoke on behalf of the BPHA Legislative Caucus. They were joined by advocates from SEIU 1199, New York State Council of Churches, Bronx Defenders, Fines and Fees Justice Center, and the NYCLU.
“I urge Governor Cuomo to sign this bill immediately, not only to end this discriminatory practice, but to provide relief to the millions of people who are deeply struggling as the second wave of this virus hits New York hard,” added Senator Kennedy.
To learn more about the Driven by Justice campaign, visit drivenbyjustice.org.