Michigan Lawmakers to Do Away with Automatic License Suspensions

The bill, passed by lawmakers in Michigan, was part of a package of criminal reform legislation.

The bill, passed by lawmakers in Michigan, was part of a package of criminal reform legislation. Shutterstock

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

Legislators approved a bill that will stop the suspensions of driver's licenses for most unpaid fines and fees.

Lawmakers in Michigan last week approved a measure to end automatic suspension of driver’s licenses for most unpaid fines and fees, a common policy that advocates say perpetuates a cycle of poverty and incarceration for non-violent offenders.

The legislation, part of a package of criminal justice reform bills, amends the state’s vehicle code to eliminate driver’s license suspensions for unpaid fines and fees for many traffic violations, only allowing them when the underlying violation could involve the “injury, death, or serious impairment of a body function of another individual.” That includes driving while intoxicated and reckless driving, according to the bill.

“For too long, driver’s license suspensions have been overused as a punishment for a variety of offenses not directly tied to being a danger on the road, and with it, the practice has actually made poverty the ‘offense’ most often being punished,” Alex Rossman, external affairs director for the Michigan League for Public Policy, said in a statement following the vote. “Today’s action is another step toward smart justice that reins in overly severe and ineffective punishments, and another much-needed step toward improving racial equity and economic stability for Michigan residents and their families.”

Dozens of states suspend licenses for unpaid fines and fees, and the practice is particularly active in Michigan. Around 360,000 licenses are suspended each year in the state for unpaid fines or because drivers failed to appear in court, and driving without a valid license is the third most-common reason for jail admission in the state, according to data from the Michigan League for Public Policy. 

In 2017, Michigan was one of just five states that accounted for 4.2 million drivers who had their licenses revoked because of failure to pay court debt, according to research from the nonprofit Fines and Fees Justice Center. (The other four were Texas, North Carolina, Virginia, and Tennessee.)

Advocates have long argued that suspending licenses to punish someone for being unable to pay fines is counterproductive. Without a valid driver’s license, people are often “unable to work, further impeding the ability to pay their fines and fees,” the American Bar Association said in a letter in July. “Frequently, the individual drives despite the suspension, which can result in other charges, incurring additional fines and fees and creating a vicious cycle of mounting debt and prolonged involvement with the legal system.” 

The problem had worsened during the Covid-19 pandemic, the association continued, as limited access to public transportation made “travel even more difficult for those with suspended licenses.”

A number of states in recent years have passed legislation eliminating the practice of automatic license suspensions related to unpaid fines and fees. Idaho, Mississippi, Montana, Virginia and West Virginia have all discontinued the practice since 2018, and several other states, including Maryland, have considered similar legislation. 

Congress has begun to address the problem as well. In July, Sen. Chris Coons, a Democrat from Delaware, and Sen. Roger Wicker, a Republican from Mississippi, introduced a bill to authorize targeted grants to states that repeal laws mandating license suspensions for unpaid fees. The legislation had bipartisan support and the backing of a broad array of groups, including prosecutors, law enforcement and civil rights organizations, but stalled in committee.

Michigan’s legislation has been approved by both the House and Senate, but needs to again be considered by the House before the measure is expected to head to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. If enacted, it will take effect next October.

Kate Elizabeth Queram is a staff correspondent for Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

FEATURED CASE STUDIES
Powered By The Atlas
A large urban park creates a "connected" visitor experience with SMART.NODEs™
Sydney NSW, Australia
Community feedback increases 13x in Lancaster, PA with both offline and online engagement methods
Lancaster, PA, USA
Firefighters Use a Thermal Imaging Camera to Make a Lifesaving Grab
Palm Bay, FL, USA

NEXT STORY: Small Banks Helped Businesses Win More PPP Loans

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.