Legislation to bring an end to the Commonwealth’s long-standing practice of suspending driver’s licenses due to unpaid court fines and costs is heading towards the floor of the State Senate. The bill sailed through the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday with a 15-1 vote.
S.B. 1013, patroned by Senator Bill Stanley (R-Franklin County), would repeal the requirement that the driver’s license of a person convicted of any violation of the law – who fails or refuses to provide for immediate payment of fines or costs – be suspended by the state’s judicial system. The bill also removes a provision allowing the court system to require a defendant in a case to present a summary prepared by the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) of the other courts in which the defendant also owes fines and costs.
Furthermore, the commissioner of the DMV will be directed to return or reinstate any person’s driver’s license that was suspended prior to July 1, 2019. Driver’s licenses will only be granted back if they were taken away solely for non-payment of court-mandated fines or costs. Any person getting back their driver’s license will only have to pay a standard reinstatement fee.
The measure follows an action in late 2018 after U.S. District Judge Norman Moon said the state’s license revocation policy violates due process. In his 23-page opinion, the Western District of Virginia’s preliminary injunction stated:
“While the court recognizes the commonwealth’s interest in ensuring the collection of court fines and costs, these interests are not furthered by a license suspension scheme that neither considers an individual’s ability to pay nor provides him with an opportunity to be heard on the matter.”
A 2013 review of fees collected by the state’s Auditor of Public Accounts shows that Virginia loses about $170 million to uncollected court fees every year as more than 600,000 people across the Commonwealth had their driver’s licenses suspended because of unpaid fines as of December 1, 2018
However, The Legal Justice Aid Center, which represents low-income Virginians, said in a recent lawsuit that more than 940,000 people in the Commonwealth have had their licenses suspended for non-payment of fees and fines.