Bill would reduce Florida drivers license suspensions for failing to pay fines

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – In 2017, 1.1 million Floridians had their drivers licenses suspended for failure to pay fines.

“This amounts to 72% of the total drivers license suspension notices that year,” said Ashley Thomas with the Fines and Fees Justice Center.

When people can’t drive, criminal justice advocates say it makes it harder to work and harder to pay.

“Suspending a drivers license because of fees and fines threatens not only a driver's ability to get to work, but being able to drive for work,” said Alex Miller with the Florida Trucking Association.

But a bill moving through both the House and the Senate aims to reduce those license suspensions by making it easier for people to get on affordable payment plans.

“You have 30 days to engage your Clerk of Court to say that you want to create a payment plan. After that, you have another 60 days to work out the mechanics of what that is,” said bill sponsor Rep. Byron Donalds.

Unlike in previous years, this year’s bill doesn’t completely do away with drivers license suspensions for failing to pay fines and fees. It also doesn’t allow the debts to be dropped.

“But by putting them on a reasonable payment plan that’s based on their ability to pay, their ability to comply with the payment plan will increase,” said Thomas.

Donalds said at the end of the day, the current system isn’t working.

“I know in Collier County there's $94 million in uncollected fines and fees associated with drivers license suspension. So the clerks aren't getting the money now,” said Donalds.

Clerks of Courts have not taken an official stance on the legislation, but their statewide office said in a statement: “It is a priority component of the Clerks’ legislative agenda this year to work with the legislature on innovative solutions that help reduce driver license suspensions, without eliminating the ability to do so when necessary.”

Florida is among 11 states considering legislation to reduce or eliminate drivers license suspensions for failure to pay fines and fees.