Last month, the Miami Herald reported that the majority of motorists in Florida who have had their drivers licenses suspended in recent years is not because they’ve been cited for driving while under the influence, but simply for failing to pay fines.
Failure to pay such fees accounted for 77 percent of all license suspensions from 2012 through 2015, the paper learned. The story showed how Miami-Dade County’s coffers have benefited from the flow of new revenues, but have also led to a crushing cycle of consequences for those who can’t or don’t pay such fines, leading to more fees, tickets, criminal charges and sometimes even jail sentences.
St. Petersburg state Sen. Jeff Brandes read that story, and says he believes the state’s policy on drivers license suspensions is broken, with far too many Florida residents having their driving privileges suspended or revoked for reasons unrelated to their driving behavior. In a letter to members of the Senate Transportation Committee, which he chairs, he writes, “This pressing problem requires a complete and thorough review by the Legislature.”
So he’s scheduled a discussion on the issue when the Legislature returns to Tallahassee next week for committee hearings. On Wednesday, September 16, he’s scheduled to have representatives from the Florida Department of Highway Safety & Motor Vehicles discuss the practice of drivers license suspension before his committee. They’ll also hear from representatives of the Florida Association of Court Clerks and Comptrollers as well as the Florida Public Defender Association.
In addition, he’s opening the meeting up to any and all state senators to sit in on the meeting.
In the Herald story, Miami-Dade Judge Steve Leifman, who presides over traffic and criminal cases, says the suspensions are so frequent now that county officials consider it more like an extra tax than a public safety measure. “We’re putting an additional tax burden on a group of individuals that can’t afford it,” Leifman told the paper. It’s “criminalizing their behavior when all they did was commit a civil infraction and didn’t have the money to pay it.”