House gives judges more leeway to suspend licenses

 

Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau

Last year, nearly 1.3 million Floridians had their drivers licenses suspended or revoked — and for about 167,000, the action had nothing to do with their driving.

Losing a license often means losing a job, particularly for low-income workers.

Monday, the state House unanimously approved a measure that would allow judges more leeway in deciding when to suspend licenses of people caught for violations such as failing to pay child support or passing bad checks.

HB 7005, a transportation and driving bill sponsored in part by Florida’s Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, passed 117-0 with little discussion.

The 66-page bill is full of provisions that will affect most drivers, including a new “move over” requirement for motorists passing sanitation and utility trucks and the mandatory placement of stickers on gas pumps that provide phone numbers for disabled motorists to call for help.

But the biggest change is the suspension measure. Currently, licenses can be suspended for failure to pay child support, misdemeanor theft, failure to appear in court for worthless checks, and various drug convictions.

According to a 2006 report by a New Jersey task force, 42 percent of drivers lost their jobs after getting their licenses revoked or suspended. Of those, 45 percent were unable to find work after losing their jobs, and of those who did, 88 percent reported a decrease in income.

“It creates poverty,” Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford told the Times/Herald in February. “It holds people down.”

Drivers who have been suspended may not be able to afford to pay the $500 fine. Then they frequently can’t get to work when no mass transit is available. If they risk driving without a license, they compound their problems if they’re caught — and thanks to automated license plate readers, many are.

Under the bill, a person found guilty of misdemeanor theft or who fails to come to court on worthless check charges would get their license suspended only if they had previously been convicted for those offenses. Plus, licenses would be revoked for drug offenses for just one year, rather than the current two.

Those who fail to pay child support on time can avoid a suspension under the bill if they can show they receive unemployment benefits, are disabled, receive governmental cash assistance or are making payments in a personal bankruptcy agreement.

The bill also:

• Expands the type of vehicles included under the state’s “move-over” law. Motorists must move away from the lane closest to the emergency lane when an emergency vehicle or a wrecker with lights flashing has pulled over. The bill would add utility and sanitation vehicles.

Motorists can face fines of up to $124 and three points on their licenses if they don’t move over, or, slow down to less than 20 mph on a two-lane road with a limit of 25 or 5 mph when the posted limit is 20 mph or less.

In 2013, there were 17,118 citations for “move-over” violations.

• Requires that full-service gas stations that offer self-service at a lower cost display a sticker on gas pumps offering assistance for the physically disabled.

“People with disabilities will get their gas pumped with dignity,” said Rep. Mark Danish, D-Tampa, who pushed to get the measure included. “These decals will be a big help to the disabled community.”

None of the provisions has yet been approved in the Senate, which would need to act this week.

Read more Legislature stories from the Miami Herald

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