California Senate OKs Bill to Avert License Suspensions for Minor Offenses

The California Senate on Tuesday passed legislation by state Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, that stops the automatic suspension of driver’s licenses for people who fail to appear in court on minor traffic offenses or fail to pay fines for those offenses.

SB 881, which was approved on a 32-7 bipartisan vote, ends an overly harsh punishment that does not fit the offense and sends many people of modest means into a downward spiral that can result in losing a job or even ending up in jail, according to its backers.

Presently, 612,000 Californians have a suspended driver’s license due to failure to appear or failure to pay on traffic tickets, according to the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Across the country, rising court fines, fees and penalties for minor offenses have proved especially burdensome to the poor and working poor, who can end up losing their driver’s licenses , jobs and freedom – sometimes going to jail – simply because they could not pay a fine or failed to appear, according to backers of the bill.

drivers_licenseA New Jersey study found that 42 percent of people whose driver’s licenses were suspended lost their jobs as a result of the suspension.

The bill is co-sponsored by the Western Center on Law & Poverty and the American Civil Liberties Union of California.

The legislation does not apply to offenses involving reckless driving or driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

SB 881 goes next to the Assembly for consideration.