Bill Would End Widespread License Suspensions for Traffic Debt
Today, the Nevada legislature approved a bill that would end the widespread practice of suspending an individual’s driver’s license when they can’t afford to pay fines and fees from a minor traffic ticket.
The vast majority of Nevada driver’s license suspensions are for traffic tickets that residents cannot afford to pay. Between July 2017 and June 2019, over 38,000 Nevadans had their driver’s licenses suspended because they couldn’t afford to pay court fines and fees.
SB219 is sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Nicole Canizzaro and co-sponsored by Assemblywoman Ceclia Gonzalez, who sponsored a similar bill in the Assembly. The legislation will help thousands of safe drivers regain the freedom to drive by automatically — and without cost — reinstating licenses that were suspended for court debt.
“This is a win for all Nevadans — especially those who have been caught in a cycle of poverty from traffic debt,” said Assemblymember Gonzalez. “I am honored to have co-sponsored such an important piece of legislation that impacts the lives of our constituents.”
Ending debt-based license suspensions enjoys broad bipartisan support. In just the last four years, 17 U.S. states — including red states like Mississippi, Idaho, Montana, Utah, West Virginia, Texas, and Arkansas — have passed major reforms to curb debt-based driver’s license suspensions.
President Biden’s platform includes fines and fees reform, while Vice President Harris previously co-sponsored the federal Driving for Opportunity Act. This bipartisan federal legislation — which was reintroduced this year and passed the Senate Judiciary Committee last month — would incentivize U.S. states to end debt-based driver’s license suspensions by providing them with extra federal funding. If the Driving for Opportunity Act passes and Governor Sisolak signs SB219, Nevada will be eligible for those funds.
“After a decade of advocacy, we were pleased to work with the bill authors, legislative leadership, and partner with the Fines and Fees Justice Center in support of SB219 this legislative session,” said Yvette Williams, chair of the Clark County Black Caucus. “We celebrate the end of debt-based driver’s license suspensions, which prevent Nevadans from taking care of their families. Nevada roads will be safer thanks to the leadership and bipartisan support of the Nevada Legislature.”
Without a license, many Nevadans lose the ability to work, care for their children and access basic needs. Driving is such a necessity that 75% of people continue to drive after their license gets suspended. If they get pulled over, they can be arrested and jailed for driving on a suspended license, which is one of the most common criminal charges in Nevada. After arrest, people are saddled with more fines and fees, and are often incarcerated long enough to miss their rent payment or lose their job.
“This is a major step toward ending the criminalization of poverty,” said Nick Shepack of the ACLU of Nevada. “This practice has targeted the most vulnerable among us. Let’s be clear, in much of Nevada, the ability to drive cannot be separated from the ability to work. We commend elected officials for taking this important step.”
One study found that 42% of people lost their jobs after their driver’s license was suspended. Of those who found new work, 88% reported a decrease in pay. Another study from Phoenix, Arizona found that the median annual income loss following license suspension was $36,800 per person.
“Today’s vote is a win-win for struggling families and the Nevada economy,” said Leisa Moseley, Nevada State Director at the Fines and Fees Justice Center. “This is another important step toward ending our state’s two-tiered system of justice where poor people – and particularly communities of color – are disproportionately punished. With his signature, Governor Sisolak can make a profoundly positive impact on our state’s economy and thousands of lives across Nevada.”