If you have been charged with driving under the influence or issued a citation for a very serious traffic offense, you might not necessarily be surprised to learn that your driver’s license has been suspended for up to 12 months.
What may come as a surprise, however, is to learn that your driver’s license has been suspended as punishment for a non-driving-related offense, or for your inability to pay court fees or fines despite your best efforts.
Indeed, a groundbreaking investigation by one newspaper made some rather astounding discoveries concerning driver’s license suspensions here in the Sunshine State, finding that over 75 percent of suspensions were due to non-traffic-related offenses, and that 77 percent of suspensions from 2012 to 2105 were due to the failure to pay court fees.
In light of this reality and the fact that disabled people and indigent people are disproportionately affected by this policy, two state lawmakers have introduced legislation designed to introduce some much-needed changes.
Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) and Sen. Geraldine Thompson (D-Orlando) have sponsored Senate Bill 7046, which, if passed, would do the following:
- Remove driver’s license suspension as a possible penalty for a host of non-driving-related offenses, including truancy, graffiti by a minor and, most significantly, failure to pay court fees
- Reduces the driver’s license suspension period from 12 months to six months for those non-driving-related offenses for which this type of punishment is still permitted
- Provides those who demonstrate that they cannot afford to pay court fines with the alternative of community service
- Provides those who utilize the services of a public defender with advance notice that if they cannot cover associated fees, they have the option of performing community service
- Establishes a new payment schedule when a court imposes fees, such that parties must be offered the option of a payment plan and not be forced to pay any more than 2 percent of their income at any time during the course of the payment plan
- Allows parties the option of performing community service instead of payment in criminal traffic cases if they can prove they qualify for a public defender and are below the poverty line
Thus far, SB 7046, which has the backing of law enforcement agencies, appears to have widespread support in both chambers. Indeed, it’s only one stop away from a full vote before the Senate and its House counterpart is only two more committee stops away from a floor vote.
Stay tuned for updates …
If you or a loved one is under investigation or has been formally charged with any sort of criminal offense, please consider speaking with an experienced legal professional as soon as possible to learn more about protecting your rights and your options.