Police

Drivers License Suspensions Slamming the Working Poor for No Particular Good Reason in Florida

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Tampa Bay Times columnist Steve Bousquet yesterday touches on a subject I wrote about here at Reason last month in my article "Petty Law Enforcement vs. the Poor": the way enforcement of laws relating to traffic and parking and moving on the streets, as people or in vehicles, can be heavyhanded and damaging beyond what the "crimes" in question should reasonably impose on most citizens, starting from something seemingly "minor" to something pretty much life-wrecking.

Bousquet writes on how quick his home state of Florida is to impose the potentially crippling, to the working poor, punishment of driver's license suspension. He hits you upfront with what that too-often means to the punished:

The state of Florida is in the business of driving people into poverty.

Don't take my word for it. Listen to House Speaker Will Weatherford, a Republican from Wesley Chapel, who couldn't believe how often the state suspends drivers' licenses: It happened to nearly 700,000 people last year…..

"If you go look at the data, they didn't pay a fine," Weatherford said. "They forgot to show up in court. They didn't pay their child support. There's this snowball effect. They lose their driver's license. Now they can't get to work. They get pulled over on a suspended driver's license. Now they go to jail. Now they owe $4,000. It creates poverty. It holds people down."

A total of 685,489 drivers in Florida had their licenses suspended in the fiscal year that ended last June. The law allows for a "business purposes only" license in some cases, but not for people who lose their licenses because they failed to pay fines.

And 167,000 of those suspensions had nothing to do with driving.

Failure to pay child support is grounds for suspension. So is a drug-related conviction, failure to appear in court on a worthless check charge and truancy by a minor. There are hundreds of kids under age 16 in Florida whose future licenses have been suspended because they habitually skip school, even though their licenses don't yet exist.

A new report by the Legislature's research unit, the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability, found that more people received nondriving-related suspensions in the past year for failure to pay court costs than for any other reason….

As I wrote in my piece, it's a steady pattern of severe damage to the lives of the least well off in America that strangely gets little attention from most poverty activists and academics, perhaps because the solution is for the state to do less rather than do more.