Virginia Sen. William Stanley

Sen. William Stanley sponsored Senate Bill 1, which was passed by the Senate last week.

When Brianna Morgan’s driver’s license was suspended due to court debt in 2014, her life became more challenging. Morgan was pregnant at the time and had two children, which made it difficult to get around without a car.

“It completely changed my day to day life at the time,” said Morgan, who lives in Petersburg. “I had a high-risk pregnancy, so I had to go to the OB-GYN every week for ultrasounds. And trying to get that done without my license was a nightmare.”

In order to keep her appointments, Morgan said she had to rely on other people for rides, which wasn’t always dependable, or risk getting behind the wheel of her car without a license.

Senate Bill 1, which repeals from state law the requirement that an individual’s driver’s license be suspended if they don’t pay court dues, unanimously passed the Senate last week. Sponsored by Sen. William Stanley, R-20th, of Franklin County, the bill also repeals a provision of state law requiring that defendants present a summary provided by the Department of Motor Vehicles that states which courts the defendant owes fines and costs to. The bill incorporated three other Senate bills.

“License suspensions in Virginia for court debt is really Virginia’s form of debtor’s prison,” said Pat Levy-Lavelle, an attorney with Legal Aid Justice Center, a nonprofit based in Virginia that litigates on behalf of low-income individuals. A 2017 report released by the Legal Aid Justice Center found that nearly 1 million Virginians’ licenses had been suspended due to court debt.

Levy-Lavelle said that people get their licenses suspended because they are too poor to pay. He noted that license suspensions due to court debt makes it harder for people to keep their jobs, go to school or take care of their kids.

Last year, the General Assembly voted to approve a budget amendment proposed by Gov. Ralph Northam that reinstated driver’s licenses to more than 600,000 Virginians who had their licenses suspended. Because this policy went into effect via a budget amendment, the policy is only in place until the budget expires in July 2020.

“The legislation this year takes essentially what was a temporary fix last year and makes it a permanent legislative repeal,” Levy-Lavelle said.

Stanley introduced similar legislation in the past two General Assembly sessions that would have ended the suspension of driver’s licenses due to court debt, but SB 1 is the first that has not died in a Republican-led committee. Levy-Lavelle attributed the bill’s success to the new makeup of the General Assembly.

“Last year and in previous years, the leadership of the House Courts Committee was different and they were able to stop what was frankly a common sense piece of reform,” Levy-Lavelle said.

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(2) comments

Omarndc72

When Brianna Morgan’s driver’s license was suspended due to court debt in 2014, her life became more challenging. So instead of this person making arrangements to pay the debt they decided not to. And this is ok? Dont pay your debts. Wow

cultured2014

how about brianna pay her court debts? what an interesting concept..people paying their bills. this bill is ridiculous.

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