The Motor Vehicle Administration can no longer suspend the driver’s licenses of motorists who fail to pay a traffic fine due to their lack of funds under legislation the General Assembly passed unanimously and sent to Gov. Larry Hogan before its early adjournment Wednesday.
The measure was introduced at the urging of Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh, who said such suspensions criminalize poverty and force low-income drivers to choose between missing work and critical errands or risking arrest by driving on a suspended license.
“The members of the General Assembly did a great job in a short session prioritizing legislation that protects Marylanders,” Frosh said in a statement Friday.
“We should not penalize Marylanders for being poor – limiting their ability to get to work, to doctor’s appointments, or pick children up from school,” added Frosh, whose office represents the MVA in court. “Working with advocates and members of the General Assembly, we were able to restore the right to work for many Marylanders and end a policy that disproportionately impacted people of color and lower income.”
The legislation – Senate Bill 234 and House Bill 280 – would apply retroactively, lifting the suspensions of drivers who have had their licenses suspended for failing to pay a fine they could not afford.
The measure would not relieve motorists of the obligation to pay fines, as the MVA could still seek a civil court judgments against deadbeat drivers.
The legislation would relax the financial obligations of fined motorists who enter into a court-approved installment payment plan with the MVA. Specifically, the measure would reduce from $300 to $150 the amount of debt needed to quality for the plan and lift the obligation that the driver pay at least 10 percent of the debt per month.
According to the attorney general’s office, the MVA suspended the driver’s licenses of more than 29,000 Marylanders between 2015 and 2019 for failing to pay fines.
The legislation is part of a national trend to reduce fee-based license suspensions. In the past two years, Virginia, the District of Columbia, California, Idaho, Maine, Mississippi, Montana and Texas have enacted reform measures, Frosh’s office stated.