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Rays in the Community: Drivers license suspensions hurt the working poor

Dr. Ray's Bay - Radio Station, March 4, 2021.


Let’s look at two scenarios.

In scenario 1, a driver — let’s call her Fran — is stopped by an overly eager sheriff’s deputy for allegedly rolling through a stop sign. She swears she came to a full stop, she’s irritated by the ticket, but once she gets home she reluctantly pulls out her checkbook and sends the county $75.

In scenario 2, we have the same stop sign, the same overly eager sheriff’s deputy and the same $75 ticket. But in this scenario, the driver — let’s call her Beth — lives paycheck to paycheck and cannot pay the $75 fine. The fine accrues interest, and now she owes $90, maybe $120.

After a few months the state moves to suspend her license. Public transit in her area is very limited, so Beth now has no way to get to work or take her kids to daycare. In order to keep her job, maybe Beth decides to drive anyway. Bad idea; if you are caught driving without a license you can be arrested. You would be surprised how many people currently sitting in jail are those who drove with suspended licenses and could not make bail.

Nearly 2 million Floridians find themselves in this sort of predicament, losing their mobility when their license is suspended, often because they owe fines and fees largely unrelated to their driving record.

The Rays have partnered with the Fines and Fees Justice Center to bring attention to this problem.

The FFJC has conducted research to show why the policy of suspending licenses for unpaid government fees is so counterproductive.

The conclusion? If the purpose is to get people to pay off these debts then depriving them of a means of getting to work doesn’t make much sense. Moreover, it’s not even cost effective. In scenario 2, the state has spent hundreds if not thousands of dollars to enforce its license suspension policies, all to pressure Beth into paying that $75 fine.

This is not a question of public safety, either. The great majority of license suspensions are imposed on people for fines and fees stemming from minor traffic infractions, or from debts unrelated to driving. Thinking about our “Fran” and “Beth” scenarios above, Beth faces a license suspension largely because she is poor.

The Rays and the FFJC believe that the State of Florida can do a lot of good — for lower income drivers, for law enforcement, for the state budget — by uncoupling driver license suspension from debt collection. There is even a bill being considered in the Florida Legislature that will start this process — Senate Bill 386/House Bill 557.

And lest our readers have concern that we are fanning partisan flames here, note that this bill has bipartisan support. Here’s the full list of supporters as of March 3, 2021:

Driving for Success Campaign Supporters

  • ACLU – Florida
  • Advancement Project
  • Americans for Prosperity – Florida
  • Associated Industries of Florida (AIF)
  • Chainless Change
  • Community Network Solution
  • Community Spring
  • Florida Cares
  • Florida Justice Institute
  • Florida Policy Institute
  • Florida Retail Federation
  • Florida Rights Restoration Coalition (FRRC)
  • Florida Rising
  • Florida Truckers Association
  • Foundation for Government Accountability
  • FRESHforce – A Program of Feeding Tampa Bay
  • Gainesville 4 All
  • Greater Orlando NOW
  • Grover Norquist, Americans for Tax Reform
  • Hillsborough County Commissioners (view resolution in support)
  • HOPE Public Interest Resource Center at Miami Law
  • Human Rights Defense Center
  • Lakewood Organic
  • LatinoJustice PRLDEF
  • Law Enforcement Action Partnership
  • Law Offices of the Public Defender, 11th Judicial Circuit of Florida
  • Law Offices of the Public Defender, 13th Judicial Circuit of Florida
  • League of Women Voters of Alachua County, Social & Criminal Justice Committee
  • Lyft
  • Miami-Dade County Commissioners
  • National Lawyers Guild
  • Operation New Hope
  • Pinellas County Ex-Offender Re-Entry Coalition
  • R Street Institute
  • Responsible Business Initiative
  • Southern Legal Counsel
  • Southern Poverty Law Center Action Fund
  • Tallahassee Veterans Legal Collaborative
  • Tampa Bay Rays
  • Tampa Bay Rowdies
  • Tampa City Council (view resolution in support)
  • The End Recidivism Project Extreme
  • The Dream Foundation, Inc.
  • The Institute for Justice
  • The Social Justice Advocacy Program at Stetson University College of Law
  • UBER
  • UNITE Pinellas
  • VoteRiders Tampa Bay

People of all political preferences can surely agree that Florida’s drivers license suspension policies fail the test of equity and the test of common sense.

The Rays, like many sports teams, have a charitable presence in the community, supporting scholarships, upgrading little league fields, and supporting food drives. But the Rays have always gone a step further, putting some thought into community issues that other teams might overlook, from voter registration to commemoration of victims of racial violence.

This is another instance where the team is lending its megaphone to a worthy effort that might not normally be visible to its fans.