Workforce concerns are abundant after the pandemic, and the government’s costly response, disrupted the economy.
The last thing governments should be doing is making it harder for people to get to work. Yet, as the massive pandemic-era government interference in labor markets slowly subsides, some states still are taking peoples’ driver’s licenses away solely because they owe debt to the court, not because they have a dangerous driving conviction.
A minority of states, 23, have yet to address the problem, and that number is shrinking. For those 23, this is the time to pass legislation to end license suspension over court debt.
As noted, the most obvious reason to eliminate the practice is that making it more difficult to drive makes it more difficult for someone to go to work and earn the money necessary to pay their debt. It is counterproductive not just to the offender, but to the court.
We are still learning more about how ineffective license suspension is in motivating and enabling people to pay their debt. The information we have shows it is very inefficient.
New Mexico and Texas counties spent an average of 41% of each dollar they collected on hearings and jail costs. One New Mexico county was in the red, spending more than it collected, NYU’s Brennan Center found. An Oklahoma County judge stated that only 5% to 11% of court debt is collected. There are administrative costs as well, including government employee time and correspondence to request payments.
As ATR covered recently, a new Fines and Fees Justice Center report on Florida found the state experiences much higher than average insurance costs, and lost economic activity from the significant number of licenses the state suspends.
The workforce shortages states are experiencing are highlighting yet another painful consequence of license suspension. Being able to work effectively is not just good for the person missing their license, it is good for industries, small businesses, and consumers.
One major and obvious example is trucking, where the country is short more than 80,000 truck drivers.
This problem is being felt in North Carolina, where, “ even if every unemployed worker was connected with an available job, there would still be nearly 160,000 open positions and no one to fill them. That’s according to figures from the U.S. Department of Commerce.”
When it comes to the criminal justice system, public safety must come first, and people who have committed infractions that show they are a danger on the road, or that they need strict monitoring, should absolutely have their driver’s license taken away. But for those who the system is pushing to pay their debt, it is best for them and the community to have them work, contribute, and pay what they owe.
North Carolina legislators have worked on this issue, but have not yet passed a bill. With a strong bipartisan coalition offering support, this is the right time for the legislature to champion reform and get people back to work.