WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, December 5th, 2020 Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-01) introduced the Driving for Opportunity Act of 2020, the House companion to a bill introduced by U.S. Senators Chris Coons (D-DE) and Roger Wicker (R-MS), to encourage states to stop debt-based driver’s license suspensions. This bill, co-led by Representative Mary Gay Scanlon (PA-05), was introduced with bipartisan support from Representatives Gwen Moore (WI-04) and Guy Reschenthaler (PA-14).
Every year, millions of Americans have their licenses suspended for unpaid court fines and fees, not based on conduct related to driving. This makes it harder to get to work and pay off the fines while also placing an unnecessary burden on our courts, jails, and law enforcement agencies.
“For too long, many Americans have had their driver’s licenses suspended for non-public safety reasons and have suffered the economic setback of debt-based driver’s license suspensions,” said Rep. Fitzpatrick. “Incentivizing states to end the suspension of driver’s licenses for unpaid fines is a commonsense reform that will improve livelihoods across this country and has widespread support from law enforcement, civil rights, and criminal justice reform organizations. I am proud to join my colleagues to introduce the bipartisan Driving for Opportunity Act.”
“Punishing people for failing to pay debts in a way that limits their ability to obtain gainful employment only sets up a cruel cycle of failure and results in the criminalization of poverty,” said Rep. Scanlon. “Particularly during the ongoing global pandemic, we need to work to eliminate barriers to employment and find legislative solutions to break the cycle of poverty. I’m proud to be joined by Rep. Fitzpatrick in introducing this common sense bipartisan legislation.”
“Suspending driver’s licenses for unpaid fines and fees makes it harder for Americans to hold down a job and care for their families, and places an undue burden on our police officers,” said Senator Coons. “Today’s introduction of the Driving for Opportunity Act in the House moves us one step closer to ending this counterproductive practice and the harm it causes in communities across the country. The broad, bipartisan coalition backing this bill underscores the strong support for swiftly passing it into law.”
“Besides not being an effective debt collection tool, these “too poor to drive” suspensions can hinder an individual’s ability to keep working or get work and can lead to interactions with the criminal justice system, both of which have far reaching impacts on our communities,” said Rep. Moore. “In Milwaukee and around the country, these policies disproportionately impact minorities and the most financially vulnerable. The Driving for Opportunity Act would encourage states to end the suspension of driver’s licenses for unpaid fees to lift the burden off of drivers and to reinstate such licenses and ensure resources are better allocated towards promoting public safety.”
“In 2018, Pennsylvania passed legislation eliminating driver’s license suspensions for non-driving infractions, an effort I was honored to be a part of,” said Rep. Reschenthaler. “The Driving for Opportunity Act will incentivize other states to follow Pennsylvania’s lead and eliminate debt-based driver’s license suspensions. By ending this counterproductive practice, we can make it easier for struggling Americans to hold down a job and pay off their debts while also ensuring police departments can target their resources where they are needed most.”
A copy of the bill can be found here: https://scanlon.house.gov/UploadedFiles/SCANPA_047_xml.pdf