Just one day after Virginians with court debt got their driving privileges restored, Gov. Ralph Northam celebrated the suspension of what he deemed to be an “unfair” practice.
Northam joined elected officials Tuesday at the Roanoke Redevelopment and Housing Authority, where the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles had a bus stationed outside a low-income housing community to help people with driver’s license matters. About 600,000 Virginians who had their driver’s licenses suspended because they couldn’t promptly pay their court fines and fees are positioned to get their licenses reinstated as a result of the legislative change.
“That is an inequity,” Northam said. “It affects people with a lower socioeconomic status, and it’s a wrong that we all needed to right.”
Suspending driver’s licenses is used to encourage people to pay their court fines and fees. But supporters of ending the practice point out the challenging cycle people get caught up in if they lose their license because they can’t pay court debt. Without a reliable form of transportation, they may lose their jobs. If they drive on a suspended license, they risk being pulled over by police and receiving more charges and more court fees.
“This new legislation creates a lot of opportunities for our residents here,” said Evangeline Ritchie, vice-president of housing with the Roanoke Housing Authority.
Legislation died in the Republican-controlled General Assembly during the spring legislative session. But Northam added language into the budget to halt the practice, and lawmakers approved it on floor votes during a later reconvened session. Northam noted the bipartisan backing indicated the support for legislation that has repeatedly died in a subcommittee composed of only a handful of lawmakers.
Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke, praised Northam for his persistence on the issue.
Because the policy change was made through the biennial budget, it’s only effective through the end of June of next year. A permanent solution may be found next year when the General Assembly reconvenes for its regular session. U.S. District Judge Norman Moon, of Charlottesville, has postponed a class action lawsuit intended to stop the practice to give the General Assembly a chance to find a permanent solution.
“We’re going to do everything we can in the upcoming session to get this into the permanent code,” Northam said.
Northam and members of his administration will tour the state throughout the summer to get the word out about the policy change.
Virginians unsure of whether their driving privileges have been restored should contact the DMV. It can provide a “Compliance Summary” for free that lists reasons why a driver’s license has been suspended.
Drivers can get those at a local DMV office, call 804 -497-7100 to have one mailed or set up an account at www.dmv.virginia.gov by downloading one.
The DMV is deploying buses around Virginia to help people with driver’s license issues. Dates and locations can be found at www.dmvnow.com/dmv2go.