The full Assembly on Monday granted final legislative approval to a bill sponsored by Assembly Democrats Elizabeth Maher Muoio and Shavonda Sumter that would create a restricted driver’s license program so individuals whose driving privileges have been suspended or revoked are still able to drive to critical destinations such as work or school.
The Department of Justice recently issued guidance to state courts throughout the country, encouraging state and municipal courts to avoid suspending driver’s licenses as a debt collection tool. Muoio believes the same recommendation should apply to the Motor Vehicle Commission.
“There should absolutely be repercussions for our actions, but punishing someone for their inability to pay a fee by inhibiting their ability to work seems counterproductive,” said Muoio (D-Mercer/Hunterdon). “This license has a very narrow scope. It allows individuals to make a living and take care of basic necessities. There are no luxuries here. I don’t see the benefit in making it harder for people to get mandated treatment, go to the doctor or pick up their children at daycare, especially when they are taking the necessary steps to make things right.”
The bill (A-3490), approved 47-20-3, would establish a restricted-use driver’s license endorsement for drivers whose licenses have been suspended or revoked for failure to pay certain motor vehicle surcharges, an accumulation of motor vehicle penalty points.
However, the bill expressly stipulates that individuals convicted of drunk driving or refusing to take a breathalyzer test, or those who have been assessed surcharges resulting from those convictions, would not be eligible for the endorsement.
“Low wage earners are more likely to have their driver’s licenses suspended, which hurts their ability to find and keep work,” said Sumter (D-Bergen/Passaic). “Drivers facing surcharges often get their license suspended because they cannot afford the costs and once their license is suspended they have trouble finding work to help pay down the surcharges because they cannot drive. It’s a vicious cycle that keeps people trapped.”
The bill would authorize a driver with a restricted-use driver’s license endorsement to operate a motor vehicle exclusively between the driver’s residence and place of employment; an accredited educational institution; a mandated treatment program; a health care facility; a child care facility, or when operating a motor vehicle is necessary as part of the person’s primary employment.
Drivers may apply for the endorsement if their driver’s licenses have been suspended or revoked for failure to pay motor vehicle surcharges and they agree to a payment plan approved by the chief administrator; for an accumulation of motor vehicle penalty points, if they attend a driver improvement program; or for having a conviction for a non-violent drug offense that does not involve a violation of Title 39 of the Revised Statutes for which motor vehicle points are assessed.
The bill would also establish penalties for operating a motor vehicle between points other than those authorized by the endorsement. The endorsement would be immediately forfeited and the driver would be subject to a fine of not less than $500 or more than $1,000; community service for a period of 30 days; and an additional one year driver’s license suspension or revocation.
A driver who is convicted of causing an accident resulting in personal injury or death to another person while driving between unauthorized points would be subject to a fine of between $1,000 and $5,000; community service for a period of 30 days; and an additional two years driver’s license suspension or revocation. A driver who is convicted of drunk driving or refusing to take a breathalyzer while operating a motor vehicle between unauthorized points would be subject to a fine of between $1,000 and $5,000 and an additional five years driver’s license suspension or revocation.
Under the bill, a person whose driver’s license is suspended or revoked after or within 10 years of the effective date of the bill would be eligible for an endorsement.