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On behalf of Americans for Prosperity West Virginia, I urge you to oppose and House Bill 2471, relating to the suspension of driver’s license for unpaid tickets. This vote may be recorded in our 2023 session legislative scorecard.
While reasonable court fees should eventually be paid, revoking a person’s ability to drive directly harms their capacity to earn the money they need to pay these fines in the first place, placing them in a vicious cycle of indebtedness and incarceration. License suspensions make it difficult, and sometimes impossible, to get to work, school, doctor’s appointments, even the grocery store. Those who drive with suspended licenses can end up serving jail time or being put on probation. If that happens, they will almost certainly incur additional fines, fees, and court costs—finding themselves further entrapped in a legal system simply due to their inability to pay.
Nationally, an estimated 11 million people have a suspended driver’s license simply because they cannot afford to pay off their fines and fees. Thankfully, due to the legislature’s good work in 2020 with HB 4958, West Virginia became one of 22 states to pass reforms to curb debt-related driving restrictions. HB 2471 is a step in the wrong direction, as it would unfortunately reinstate the suspension of drivers licenses for unpaid fines and fees if an individual does not make a payment within 6 months of setting up a payment plan.
West Virginia law already allows for other mechanisms to enforce payment of fines and fees. First, the same statute in question in this bill allows clerks to record a judgement lien against someone’s real property. Existing law allows this lien to be enforced by the court and leveraged to take the rental income from the property or force the sale of the property. Second, the clerk can also hand the debt over to a debt collection agency. These debt collection agencies are able to garnish up to 20% of someone’s weekly earnings if someone still does not pay the debt.
Enforcing non-driving-related driver’s license suspension would cost citizens and the state lost wages, police, administrative, and court processing time. These limited public resources should instead be invested into activities that protect and improve public safety. Driver’s licenses should only be suspended for public safety. It is for these reasons we ask you to oppose HB 2471.
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