A bill that would eliminate mandatory driver’s license suspensions as a penalty for various crimes and offenses that are in no way related to safely operating a motor vehicle was approved Thursday by the Assembly Appropriations Committee. The legislation is sponsored by Assembly Democrats James Kennedy, Eliana Pintor Marin and Verlina Reynolds-Jackson.
“Driver’s licenses should not be suspended for an offense unrelated to the ability to safely operate a motor vehicle,” said Kennedy (D-Middlesex, Somerset Union). “We’ve seen too many people get caught up in the vicious cycle of not being able to get a license because they can’t pay fines, but they can’t get to and from work to earn money to pay the fines if they can’t get a license.”
A state Supreme Court committee recently studied the issue of license suspension for failure to pay fines and produced a report that concluded municipal courts’ excessive use of license suspensions and bench warrants to collect money, “never-ending” fines that impact poor residents the most, and discretionary penalties doled out for contempt of court with little oversight leaves the public with the perception that municipal ticketing has far more to do with generating revenue than making sure justice is served.
“I have personally heard horror stories from New Jerseyans who paid their motor vehicle fines, but didn’t know they also owed late fees and then had their licenses suspended,” explained Pintor Marin (D-Essex). “It’s just wrong to take someone’s license away and make it extremely difficult for them to get to their jobs over fees, that in some cases are less than ten dollars. This bill rights that wrong.”
The court would still have discretion in child support-related warrants and retains the authority to suspend a driver’s license if, after notice and a hearing, the court finds the suspension is warranted.
“A person in New Jersey can actually lose their driver’s license for one year for an act of graffiti they may have committed when they were 13-years-old, years before they could legally get a license,” said Reynolds-Jackson (D-Mercer, Hunterdon). “It’s idiotic scenarios like this that the bill seeks to address.”
The bill (A-5191) would eliminate a driver’s license suspension as a penalty for convictions of the following crimes and offenses:
- underage possession or consumption of alcoholic beverages on public or private property and underage purchase of alcoholic beverages (six months);
- certain disorderly persons or petty disorderly persons offenses for controlled dangerous substance violations for which the defendant was placed on supervisory treatment (six months to two years unless compelling circumstances warrant an exception);
- crimes for which certain fines, assessments, or restitution are imposed and the defendant is in default without good cause (suspension until past payments are made);
- underage gambling (six months);
- illegal disposal of solid waste or illegal use of a solid waste vehicle to transport fresh food (six months to one year);
- failure to pay motor vehicle violation surcharges (suspension until five percent of the outstanding surcharges is paid or an installment payment plan is established);
- illegal possession of a controlled dangerous substance in a motor vehicle (two years);
- abandoning a motor vehicle on a highway (two to five years);
- failure to respond to a failure to appear notice or failure to pay a parking judgment (suspension until payment is satisfied);
- failure to appear in municipal court (suspension until matter is adjudicated) or failure to satisfy a condition of the sentence, such as pay an assessed fine or perform community service (suspension until condition is satisfied);
- initiating a false public alarm committed by a juvenile (six months); and
- failure of an indigent defendant to comply with terms of an installment payment plan for a motor vehicle traffic violation or parking offense.
The bill will now head to the Assembly Speaker for further review.