TOPEKA – Lawmakers and the governor have corrected a legislative oversight that was making life difficult for poor people who have traffic tickets they can’t afford to pay all at once.
House Bill 2009 restores a system to allow motorists with suspended licenses to get a restricted license to drive to work, school or other important destinations, while paying off traffic fines over time.
Lawmakers supporting the bill and Gov. Sam Brownback gathered Thursday for a signing ceremony that marked its passage into law.
The bill was originally the handiwork of two Wichita-area legislators, Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, D-Wichita, and former Sen. Phil Journey, a Wichita Republican.
It passed four years ago, but with a sunset clause that automatically repealed the law last year. The expiration of the law was not immediately noticed by the Legislature.
Faust-Goudeau said she learned the law had expired when she advised a constituent with a suspended license to get a restricted one.
She said the person called back and told her, “They said that law no longer exists.”
Expiration of the restricted-license law has caused problems, sometimes major ones, for working poor people, said Amanda Stratman and Heather Ramey, University of Kansas students who are interning with Kansas Legal Services and attended the bill signing.
Stratman and Ramey said one of their Topeka clients had lost her customer-service job with a department store because she couldn’t get to work consistently when her license was suspended. The woman owed back fines on two traffic tickets, but couldn’t afford to pay them.
After losing her job, the woman also fell behind on other bills and rent and now is living in a homeless shelter.
“It all just snowballs down,” Ramey said.
Before this year’s legislative session began, Faust-Goudeau prefiled a bill in the Senate to restore the law.
She enlisted Rep. Gail Finney, D-Wichita, to introduce an identical bill in the House.
The House moved the bill faster, so that’s the version that made it through to the governor’s desk, Faust-Goudeau said.
Under the bill, drivers suspended for nonpayment of fines can pay a $25 fee to apply for a restricted license that allows driving to and from work, school, medical appointments, emergency medical services, probation or parole meetings, drug and alcohol treatment and court appearances.
The restricted license is good for one year, allowing the motorists to pay off their outstanding fines a little at a time, rather than in a lump sum, which is difficult for low-income people, Faust-Goudeau said.
Drivers whose licenses are suspended for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol are not eligible for restricted licenses, she said.