June 15, 2017

Suspending drivers' licenses for faillure to pay traffic fines hurts the poor

The Atlantic - The threat of driver’s-license suspension to compel violators to pay traffic fines has long been viewed as an essential tool. California is one of 29 states to use it, according to Lauren-Brooke Eisen, senior counsel at the left-leaning Brennan Center for Justice. But the size of the fines levied has ballooned in recent decades, as lawmakers came to use them as a regular source of revenue for government programs.

In California, increased attention on how this punishment disproportionately affects low-income residents has led lawmakers there to consider mitigating penalties, starting with a bill now working its way through the state Senate. Indeed, when it comes to low-income Californians, revoking licenses would seem to do more to keep them in a cycle of poverty than encourage them to pay debts they cannot afford. Yet lawmakers are finding that disentangling this revenue from the state’s spending is complicated, as the bill’s opponents argue it funds valuable initiatives. 

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