Representatives Byron Donalds, Bob Rommel, and Rene Plasencia, Senator Tom Wright, and a broad coalition led by the Fines and Fees Justice Center (FFJC) held a press conference at the Florida State Capitol on Tuesday, February 11 calling for passage of HB 903 and SB 1328. This legislation would:
- Reduce the number of driver’s license suspensions for unpaid fines and fees in criminal cases
- Create a standardized process for individuals who owe fines or fees to apply for and obtain an affordable payment plan
Last month, the Tampa City Council and Hillsborough County Commission each approved resolutions in support of this legislation. Americans for Prosperity, The Florida Retail Federation, Florida Truckers Association, Institute for Justice, UBER, Lyft and other business groups across the state have also signed on in support.
In recent years, Texas, Montana, Idaho, California and Mississippi have all changed their laws to stop suspending driver’s licenses for unpaid fines and fees. In addition to Florida, legislators are currently considering similar bills in Kansas, Minnesota, Utah, Maryland, New York, Virginia, West Virginia, Colorado, and Washington State. FFJC recently released interactive Story Maps and a major report, Driving on Empty: Florida’s Counterproductive and Costly Driver’s License Suspension Practices, documenting how this counterproductive policy harms Florida’s families and businesses. Nearly 2 million Floridians currently have a suspended driver’s license.
“Florida businesses are being harmed by this ineffective policy,” said Ashley Thomas, FFJC’s Florida State Director. “Businesses across the state rely on employees to dependably get to work every day
and many jobs require driving. Florida’s practice of suspending a person’s driver’s license for unpaid fines and fees is counterproductive and needs to end.”
Representative Byron Donalds, who is sponsoring HB 903, stated that, “The current drivers license suspension system places too many Floridians in a downward spiral. HB 903 allows individuals who owe fines and fees to get back on the road, safely and legally, return to work, and to provide for their families. This conservative solution is what we should be advocating for to help all Floridians.”
Senator Tom Wright, who is sponsoring SB 1328, stated that, “This piece of legislation will provide many of our Floridians owing fines and fees an outlet to keeping or reinstating their drivers’ license. I am proud to be working alongside Representative Donalds on a proactive approach to keep people working in this state while lessening their financial burdens over time.”
Representative Plasencia, who is co-sponsoring HB 903, stated that, “Debt-based license suspension facilitates an ineffective cycle of debt for drivers with suspended licenses by taking away their ability to work as punishment for unpaid fines and fees. When individuals are faced with the decision to either stop driving and lose access to work, childcare, health care, food, and other necessities, or keep driving on a suspended license and risk criminal charges and more unaffordable fines and fees, there lies a fundamental breakdown in our system. I fully support HB 903, because I believe access to transportation is a critical component in helping our citizens get back on their feet. This bill will improve Florida’s economy by giving thousands of Floridians the opportunity to return to work and continue supporting their families.”
“Hardworking Floridians should not be prevented from going to work and providing for their families simply because they are unable to pay fines related to their drivers licenses,” said Skylar Zander, Americans for Prosperity’s Florida State Director. “This practice traps too many in a cycle of indebtedness and incarceration and must be stopped. Lawmakers should come together to protect the Sunshine State’s citizens and economy.”
“Florida is known as one of the most business-friendly states in the nation, but we are behind other states in continuing to suspend driver’s licenses for unpaid fees, which negatively impacts workers and their employers,” said Scott Shalley, President and CEO of the Florida Retail Federation. “It is critical for Florida’s retailers to have employees with dependable transportation. This proposed legislation would enable employers to have a consistent workforce, save money on training and hiring, and continue to provide their goods and services to their communities.”
“Our industry places the utmost importance on safety on the roads, and if a professional commercial motor vehicle driver, whether in a truck or a personal vehicle, practices dangerous driving behavior, there should be consequences,” said Alix Miller, Vice President of Florida Trucking Association. “Suspending a driver’s license on the basis of fines or fees threatens continued employment and exacerbates financial instability.”
“At Uber, we’re committed to working within our communities to help provide opportunities to those who need them most,” said Stephanie Smith, Senior Public Policy Manager, Uber. “Whether it’s a reliable ride across town or the ability to pay bills at the end of the month, the same chances should exist for everyone.”
“Taking away a person’s driver’s license for unpaid court costs is a harsh punishment that accomplishes nothing,” said Ari Bargil, an attorney for the Institute for Justice. “It serves no purpose for the government to impose a fine only to make it nearly impossible for a person to pay it. Driver’s license suspension is for those proven to be dangerous behind the wheel. It should not be a penalty for being poor.”
HB 903 and SB 1328 have been endorsed by the editorial boards of the Orlando Sentinel and Tampa Bay Times, while garnering positive coverage in the Miami Herald, Tallahassee Democrat, South Florida Sun-Sentinel and numerous other outlets throughout Florida.
ABOUT THE FINES AND FEES JUSTICE CENTER
FFJC serves as a hub for the fines and fees reform movement, working with impacted communities, researchers, advocates, legislators, justice system stakeholders, and media all across the U.S. To join our coalition in Florida, or to learn more about our campaign, visit: finesandfeesjusticecenter.org/campaigns/florida-campaign-fines-fees.