ACLU-WA: New Driver’s License Suspension Law Continues to Punish People Who Can’t Afford to Pay Traffic Tickets

News Release: 
Monday, May 10, 2021
Today, Gov. Jay Inslee signed ESSB 5226, a bill that falls short of the meaningful reform necessary to end debt-based license suspensions. The following statement may be attributed to Mark Cooke, ACLU of Washington’s Policy Director for the Campaign for Smart Justice:
"Our goal from the outset has been to eliminate debt-based driver’s license suspensions in Washington. We are disappointed that the final version of this bill as signed by the Governor today does not accomplish its original intent. Debt-based license suspensions remain a reality despite the passage of this bill and the claims of its supporters.
“The new definition of failure to appear will continue to penalize people with limited resources. For many, taking time off work to appear in court has a real cost—in lost wages or risk to their employment—that they likely cannot afford. Although some people will experience a short-term benefit, many—disproportionately young people and communities of color—will continue to face the risk that they could lose their license just for driving while poor.
“We envision a state, and elected leadership, that supports ending the practice of relying on driver’s license suspensions to coerce debt payments from people living in poverty. We will keep working in the Legislature and the courts to make this change happen. Washington state and local jurisdictions unjustly balance their budgets with fines and fees extracted from those who can least afford to pay. It is beyond time to end this system, which criminalizes poverty and disproportionately harms people of color.”
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