HARRISBURG - The Pennsylvania House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed legislation today to restore access to a driver’s license for people who have been convicted of offenses that are unrelated to operation of a vehicle. Under current law, people who are convicted for a variety of offenses, including drug offenses and failure to pay child support, face a license suspension for periods of six months or longer.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania praised the state House for taking a step forward for “smart justice.”
“For too many years, this irrational and illogical policy has created yet another barrier for people with criminal records,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “We expect people to get back on their feet and lead law-abiding lives. Yet, their ability to do so is compromised by the inability to simply get around in their daily lives.
“This law limits a person’s employment opportunities, housing choices, and family involvement. The House did the right thing in voting to repeal this law.”
Over a five year period from 2011 to 2016, the commonwealth suspended the drivers’ licenses of 149,000 people, according to data collected by Equal Justice Under the Law, a civil rights group based in Washington, D.C. Implemented in the 1990s on the demand of the federal government, the license suspension impacts people convicted of drug offenses and a wide range of non-driving related crimes, including failure to pay child support, underage purchase of tobacco, and carrying false identification.
Although the federal government pushed states to implement laws like this, under threat of losing federal highway funding, only 12 states still have the policy on the books. The federal government has allowed states to opt out of enforcement by passing resolutions stating their intention to do so. The bill passed today by the state House, House Bill 163, was introduced by Representative Rick Saccone and is accompanied by House Resolution 76, which was introduced by Representative Daniel Miller. Together, the bill and the resolution satisfy the federal government’s opt-out provision.
“The license suspension law is a relic of the failed war on drugs,” said Elizabeth Randol, legislative director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “It disproportionately impacts people of color, people living in poverty, and juveniles. The state House deserves credit for recognizing the failure of this approach and for getting smart on justice.”
Randol noted that last week the House also passed the Clean Slate Act, legislation to automatically seal a person’s criminal record for certain offenses from public view after a period of years without another conviction.
House Bill 163, the driver’s license bill, now heads to the state Senate for its consideration.