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No more suspended licenses for unpaid court costs / April 08, 2019

Virginia will no longer suspend a person’s driver’s license for non-payment of court fines and costs under a state budget amendment approved by the General Assembly and signed into law last week by Gov. Ralph Northam.

The budget amendment also reinstates the driving privileges of an estimated 625,000 Virginians whose driver’s licenses are currently suspended. “The practice of suspending a person’s driver’s license for nonpayment of court fines and costs is inequitable — it’s past time we end it,” said Northam in announcing the budget change.

“A driver’s license is critical to daily life, including a person’s ability to maintain a job. Eliminating a process that envelops hundreds of thousands of Virginians in a counterproductive cycle is not only fair, it’s also the right thing to do,” said the governor.

Legislative efforts to end Virginia’s suspension policy failed during the regular session of the General Assembly, but Northam got around the impasse with the budget amendment process, offsetting lost revenue to the Department of Motor Vehicles and the state’s Trauma Center Fund. On Wednesday, the General Assembly, which reconvened to consider the governor’s budget changes, accepted the end of the license suspension policy.

Last week’s action fall short of a full repeal of laws that mandate that a person lose his or her license for failing to pay court costs, and the policy will remain in effect only so long as money exists in the budget to pay for it. However, advocates of repeal said last week’s action will allow Virginians to drive to work and provide for their families without worrying about running afoul of the law.

State Sen. Bill Stanley, who represents the western half of Halifax County, was among the lawmakers in Richmond who sought this session to end the practice of court debt-related driver’s license suspensions. “It is long overdue for Virginia to end this destructive policy, which targets people in poverty and prevents them not only from paying their debts, but also from taking care of their essential basic needs, and the health and welfare of their children and families,” said Stanley.

The action by the governor and lawmakers won praise from the Legal Aid Justice Center, based in Charlottesville. “Today the General Assembly rose to a tremendous occasion and passed a budget amendment that brings fairness and justice to the lives of hundreds of thousands of Virginians whose driver’s licenses will now be reinstated from suspensions levied for unpaid court fines and fees … All Virginians must have a fair opportunity to fulfill their obligations without losing their jobs, their ability to care for their families, and their dignity,” stated the center, which provides legal representation for low-income Virginians.

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