by Joe Courter
Robert Hutchinson posted this excerpt on Facebook on Oct. 16:
“Florida’s standard punishment for a wide variety of infractions is suspension of the driver’s license. In Alachua County, there are 20,000 current driver’s license suspensions, affecting roughly 15 percent of the driving age population. Infractions include vandalism and graffiti, failure to pay parking tickets, missing childcare payments, sexting, alcohol or tobacco possession by a minor, and many other non-driving offenses. Possession of marijuana or other drugs carries a mandatory one-year revocation.
“Driver’s license suspensions disproportionately impact lower income people. The majority of suspensions are the result of not paying a fine of $50-500. These suspensions would probably go away if the fines were proportional to income or wealth of the perpetrator (as in some countries), but legislators and commissioners continually find ways to punish the poor.
“In a nation where income inequality is increasing, it is unconscionable that we don’t make punishments proportional to the ability to pay.”
This set off a spirited set of comments, including a number of people who had suffered under this policy and also a number of people who had no idea this was happening.
Those at the Florida Department of Revenue can use the excuse that they are simply enforcing the laws the legislature made, but that does not solve anything, because if they are aware these laws affect people negatively they should speak up. And of course there are definite negative aspects to losing one’s license. Major things like keeping one’s job, putting food on the table, paying rent and utility bills, paying child support. Some, no doubt, keep driving out of necessity and risk further fines if caught.
Elections matter, it is the state legislature that put these rules into effect. Some of the clerks of the court around the state have been working to help people avoid fees and penalties from collection agencies. Called “Operation Green Light,” the most recent one was in October with another planned for Feb. 21. For more information, see https://www.flclerks.com/page/greenlight. More details next issue.