Northam Moves to Restore 627,000 Licenses Suspended Over Court Fees and Fines

Mar 26, 2019

More than 620,000 Virginians have lost their driver’s license, because they couldn’t afford to pay court fines or fees that had nothing to do with driving. Today, Governor Northam announced a plan to restore driving privileges.

Governor Ralph Northam says he's added language to the budget that would end the practice of taking away a driver's license if someone is unable to pay court fees or fines.

During the legislative session, state senators approved a bill to end the practice of taking away a driver’s license if someone couldn’t afford court costs, but a small group of Republicans blocked that measure in committee, so the full house didn’t get to vote.  Now, Governor Ralph Northam has amended the state budget to end the practice.

“This causes otherwise safe drivers to lose their legal ability to drive," he explained. "A 2006 report in New Jersey found that 42% of drivers lost their job after losing their license and 45% of those individuals were unable to find a new job.  It is especially pertinent to those who live in rural Virginia, because we don’t have public transportation.”  

For that reason, Northam said, low income drivers who lose their license are forced to make a difficult decision. 

The executive director of the Legal Aid Justice Center, Angela Ciolfi, thanks her team for years of work toward ending license suspensions.

“Obey the suspension and potentially lose their ability to provide for their families or drive anyway and face further punishment and even jail for driving on a suspended license.”    

He thanked several community groups for their support – including the Legal Aid Justice Center and its executive director.

“I’d also now like to introduce Angela CLOW-fay [SIC]," he said, apologizing for what he thought to be a mispronunciation. 

She graciously accepted the apology.

“Good afternoon.  My name is Angela CHOLE-fee," she said with a smile.  "It’s easier if you use your hands – Ciolfi,” she joked with an Italian accent and a dramatic gesture.

Ciolfi argued driving was not a privilege but a right.

Petersburg resident Brianna Morgan explains the hardships imposed on her family when she was unable to pay court costs associated with a speeding ticket and lost her license.

“Eighty-seven percent of Virginians rely on a car to get to jobs, medical appointments, places of worship and grocery stores," she said. "Driving is no more a privilege than it is to work, eat, pray and take care of your family.”

And she introduced Brianna Morgan, the mother of three from Petersburg, who had lost her license over a speeding ticket and the inability to pay court costs.

“My dad is an army veteran who had several strokes and talks in a way that’s pretty difficult for most people to understand.  He relies on me to help him at medical appointments, but without my license I could not be with him," Morgan recalled. "Without my license, a six-minute drive to my son’s school if he had an asthma attack turned into an hour ride on a city bus.”  

The legislature will vote on the budget April 3rd – likely ending the practice of suspending licenses over unpaid court fines and fees.

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