General Assembly Agrees to End License Suspensions for Unpaid Court Costs

Apr 4, 2019

More than half a million people in Virginia with outstanding court fines are about to get their driver’s licenses back. That’s thanks to a budget amendment from Democratic Governor Ralph Northam that was approved Wednesday by a Republican-led General Assembly.

Many people who get caught up in court system find themselves in a downward spiral that concludes with their driver’s license being suspended. They can’t afford to pay all those court fines and fees, and then they find themselves illegally driving to work. That’s more than half-a-million people, mainly low-income and minority.

Delegate Alfonso Lopez, a Democrat from Arlington, says that’s unconscionable. “Our current policy is, in my opinion, the equivalent of some kind of modern-day debtors prison. We should never be punishing people for being poor.”

House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert says people who have not paid court fines should not have driver’s licenses. “They’ve broken the law. They’ve chosen not to pay the penalties for breaking the law, and now they find themselves digging themselves deeper into a hole because they refuse to make responsible decisions about their lives that will allow them to get out of this hole.”

Ultimately, lawmakers in the House and Senate agreed with the Democratic governor rather than the Republican House leader.  That means those half a million people who can’t afford to pay court fines are about to get their driver’s licenses reinstated.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.