Colorado drivers shouldn’t lose licenses only for being too poor to pay court docket fines

In her passionate defense of working families’ right to keep their driver’s license in order to find work and support one another, Rep. Leslie Herod says she now has support from the Colorado State Patrol to resolve the suspension for unrelated court fees to end.

Colorado should join other states in ending the practice of suspending tens of thousands of driver’s licenses a year just because the driver hasn’t paid fines or fees entirely unrelated to driving offenses or serious crimes, argues Herod, D-Denver. The state patrol says that 90,000 licenses are suspended every year for these dubious reasons, Herod said, and that three-quarters of those people are driving illegally anyway because they have to.

They inevitably get into bigger trouble and debt, she added. “What we want to do is take this cycle away,” said Herod.

The Colorado Sun invited Governor Jared Polis and four lawmakers to share their big ideas ahead of the 2021 legislature during a virtual event on February 11th. See them here.

Herod presented the proposed policy change Thursday night during an event in the Colorado Sun with Governor Jared Polis and four state lawmakers, each with their “big ideas” to preview the 2021 legislature that resumed Tuesday.

Leslie Herod State MP, D-Denver wants Colorado to stop suspending licensing of people just because they can’t pay fines (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

Getting the state patrol on board improves their chances, Herod said. “They are 100 percent behind it, in fact they came to me.”

Regarding the objection that the policy change leaves scoffers too easily off the hook, Herod said: “We find that this does not reduce their willingness to pay, but increases their ability to pay.”

Herod promoted licensing legislation in 2020, but it was one of many bills aimed at systemic changes and dropped during a shortened session related to pandemics that focused on deep budgetary concerns.

Hundreds of thousands of Colorado driver’s licenses are suspended each year, and a significant portion of this is due to the absence of fines and fees that may not have anything to do with driving offenses. The underlying crime could be parking tickets or a missed court date, child alimony, or drug abuse cases.

The suspension of the license inevitably exacerbates the problems of low-income residents beyond the problems they first caused in court, say advocates of social justice. Losing their license means they can’t legally drive to work or schedule other court or probation meetings, or run basic errands to support their families.

Several states have discontinued the practice or seriously considered it with similar laws in recent years. The effort is often part of a larger social and economic justice movement that has advocated a “ban on the box” prohibiting employers from asking about past crimes on job or rental applications. Change most of the cash deposit for minor violations; and eliminate the possibility of people being incarcerated for unpaid court debts.

Colorado and some local governments have passed many of these measures. In many cases, the efforts have attracted a coalition of supporters ranging from liberal to conservative. Some business or libertarian advocates say the government should remove barriers to people getting back on their feet.

Rising Sun

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