Lawmakers in Nevada have introduced a measure that would prevent authorities from suspending a driver’s license when a person cannot pay or respond to a traffic ticket.
The measure, AB151, sponsored by Democratic Assemblywomen Cecelia González and Selena Torres, would eliminate the practice of suspending licenses for unpaid minor traffic fines, fees, and assessments. Enactment would make Nevada the 14th state to pass legislation limiting debt-based driver’s license suspensions.
The measure would also automatically reinstate licenses that were suspended for court debt from traffic violations. The bill would not prevent suspensions based on dangerous driving or overdue child support.
“Suspension of a driver’s license because someone is unable to pay a minor traffic ticket can potentially cause other economic hardships for Nevadans who are barely making ends meet,” said González in a statement. “I brought this bill forward because I want to make sure Nevadans who get a minor traffic ticket are still able to drive to work and pay their bills.”
Currently, drivers who receive a traffic infraction can either pay the ticket, perform community service, or appear in court to contest it. If the driver doesn’t fulfill those requirements, the Department of Motor Vehicles can suspend the driver’s license.
Advocates argue that suspending licenses for unpaid fines unfairly punishes poor people who can’t afford the full weight of the fines and accrue more debt.
“Driving is a necessity for many people, especially during COVID,” said Leisa Moseley, Nevada state director of the Fines and Fees Justice Center. “Suspending someone’s license for the inability to pay traffic fines and fees limits their ability to get to work, doctor’s appointments, the grocery store, and take care of basic needs.”
Between July 2017 and June 2019, over 38,000 Nevadans had their driver’s licenses suspended because they couldn’t afford to pay court fines and fees, according to the Fines and Fees Justice Center.
In recent years, more attention has been paid to the impact that punitive fines have on people without means. Over the last four years, 13 other states in the U.S. have enacted similar laws eliminating debt-based license suspension – including Idaho, Oregon, California and Montana. Several other states, including neighboring Utah and Arizona, are pushing to pass similar reforms in 2021.
Democrats in the Nevada Legislature are aiming to pass other traffic ticket-related bills, including a bill that would convert traffic tickets from a criminal offense to a civil matter, which is being supported by Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson and Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro, signaling the legislation has strong backing from party leadership.