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In a big win for commonsense improvements to the criminal justice system, the Ohio Senate passed legislation to end the ‘modern day debtors prison’ of debt-based driver’s license suspension.

The senate overwhelmingly approved Senate Bill 37, which would end driver’s license suspensions for those with non-driving-related crimes. Ohio sees approximately 3 million license suspensions yearly, due to debt.

ATR president Grover Norquist offered a statement in support of SB 37, “Ohioans who owe debt for tickets, fines, or fees will be able to get to work, contributing to the economy and giving them means to pay back their debt. More than half of license suspensions in Ohio are over debt, not dangerous driving. Ending these suspensions will positively impact the state’s workforce shortage and economy.”

Driver’s license suspensions over debt are intended to pressure people to pay up. However, they prevent those with debt from paying it back. A revoked license is a severe hurdle to a debt-ridden person. A lack of a permit makes it harder to get a job and earn. More than half of participants in a Phoenix, Arizona program said they had lost a job due to suspension. In New Jersey, 42% of people lost jobs after their driver’s license was suspended, according to a Rutgers study.

Those with revoked licenses often drive anyway, opening the door to more charges and putting greater strain on the courts. Revoked licenses create a vicious cycle that adds unnecessary pressure to someone with preexisting charges.

The inefficiency of revoking licenses also causes problems. 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. The inability of the state to collect debt puts greater strain on taxpayers, who must pay for efforts to collect debt. 

It is important to state, debt is still owed, and debt-based suspensions are not the same as dangerous driving. People who pose a risk to road safety would still see their licenses taken away.