March 12, 2021
To: Florida State Legislators
From: Americans for Tax Reform
Re: ATR supports HB 557/SB 386
Dear Members of the Florida House of Representatives and Senate,
On behalf of Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), and our supporters across Florida, I urge you to support and approve House Bill 557 and/or Senate Bill 386 which would end the practice of driver’s license suspension as a punishment for owed court debt, for offenses unrelated to road safety.
Suspending someone’s license because they can’t afford a fine is wrong and counterproductive. It can cost someone their job by significantly limiting their transportation options, or make it difficult for them to look for a job in the first place. Without income, it only becomes harder for someone to pay off the debt they owe. This bad situation can get worse, as desperation may result in someone committing the offense of driving without a license, this can spark a downward cycle as a new offense is piled on top of whatever prior offense led to the initial fine and court debt.
It is one thing to suspend someone’s driver’s license because they are a dangerous driver; that is a warranted punishment aimed at protecting public safety. It is entirely different to attempt to use suspension to pressure anyone who is struggling to pay a court debt for non-driving offenses – and the vast majority of Florida license suspensions fall into this category.
This legislation will also ensure people’s payments are reasonable. Taking ability to pay into account for fines is important as criminal justice system fines are meant to be a punishment, not a long-term trap for people who cannot afford to pay them outright.
Despite many courts not reporting transparent figures that show how much they spend in order to attempt to collect debt, evidence is showing license suspension is not a cost-effective way to collect.
Results from California, one of the early states to reform driver’s license suspension, show that courts are now receiving more money because people are better able to pay their fines if they can drive to work. California’s courts reported a 9% increase in collections on newly issued traffic tickets following reform.
At least 10 states and the District of Columbia have ended driver’s license suspension over court debt. Florida should not fall further behind in the race to reform.
HB 557 and SB 386 should earn broad bipartisan support, and Republicans in particular should jump at the opportunity to reduce undue government burdens that are counterproductive to the goals of the justice system.
Grover G. Norquist
Americans for Tax Reform