For Immediate Release: March 12, 2023
Contact: Monica Ault, email@example.com
New Mexico Legislature Approves Bill Ending Debt-Based Driver’s License Suspensions
Bipartisan Legislation Will Reinstate Hundreds of Thousands of New Mexican Driver’s Licenses
Santa Fe – Late last night, the New Mexico legislature passed SB 47, which would end the widespread practice of suspending licenses due to court debt. The bill, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, Senator Crystal R. Diamond, and Representative Christine Chandler, now heads to Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s desk.
SB 47 ends driver’s license suspension for missed court hearings and overdue fines and fees payments owed in traffic and criminal cases. It would also direct the Motor Vehicle Division to reinstate all outstanding driver’s license suspensions for these reasons. The bill will not eliminate suspensions and revocations based on dangerous driving (DUI, accrued points, etc.) nor will it limit the court’s discretion to impose sanctions and punishments in criminal and traffic cases.
If Gov. Lujan Grisham signs the bill into law, New Mexico would become the 24th state to enact legislation to end debt-based driver’s license suspensions in the past five years.
“Debt-based suspensions make it harder for New Mexicans to get to work, take care of their families, and pay their debts,” said Senator Peter Wirth. “Now is our opportunity to work together to improve our economy, make our communities safer, and keep hard working New Mexicans on the road.”
Currently, over 300,000 New Mexicans can’t legally drive simply because they are trapped in a cycle of debt and their access to safe and legal transportation is limited. In fact, New Mexico suspended over 183,000 New Mexican driver’s licenses from 2019-2021, all because the person could not afford to pay their court debt or missed a court hearing.
“The fact that we have over 300,000 open license suspensions means this system is not working,” said Senator Crystal Diamond. “And, with this new legislation, judges will still have their full range of judicial tools to make sure individuals are following the law.”
A recent study shows that when people lose their license, 40% lose their jobs. “This harms whole families and communities, not to mention our state’s economy,” said Representative Christine Chandler. “License suspensions have severe consequences, especially in rural areas. They should be reserved for dangerous driving, not debt.”
“Debt-based license suspensions force an impossible choice: stop driving — and lose access to work and basic necessities — or keep driving, thus risking arrest and risk more more unaffordable fines and fees and further criminal consequences,” said Monica Ault, New Mexico State Director at the Fines and Fees Justice Center. “Yesterday’s vote brings New Mexico one step closer to ending this vicious cycle of poverty and punishment.”
Learn more about fines and fees reform in New Mexico at: https://finesandfeesjusticecenter.org/campaigns/new-mexico/