Advance Notice: Briefs

Michigan drivers to get break on license suspension fees ‘to stop penalizing poverty’

By: - March 9, 2020 12:06 pm
A Secretary of State office in Lansing, Michigan

A Secretary of State branch office in East Lansing, Michigan | Susan J. Demas

A court decision last May allowed the state to continue to suspend driver licenses for failure to pay court fees. But leaders, including Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist and Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Bridget McCormack, are working to offer alternative payment options.

A decision by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold the secretary of state’s practice to suspend driver licenses says that although “this policy may in many cases make that … payment harder to accomplish [it] does not show that the law lacks a rational basis.”

Attorney General Dana Nessel, March 5, 2020 | Anna Liz Nichols

“While it was clear the state would likely prevail, this onerous policy clearly penalized low-income drivers, putting them in a no-win situation by severely limiting their mobility and access to employment,” Nessel said. “It is time to reevaluate laws that effectively criminalize being poor.”

Now, Michigan citations and court forms will clearly state: “if you are not able to pay any fine or costs due to financial hardship, contact the court immediately to request a payment alternative.”

“Driver license suspensions are one of the leading factors for sky high jail admissions in Michigan,” said Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist. “This action is an important step toward reducing how many people come into contact with the system. It moves us closer to ensuring our policies treat people across the state fairly despite their socio-economic status.”

The new standard language must be part of the state forms by Feb. 13, 2021.

“I am proud that we are working to stop penalizing poverty,” said Benson. “There is a disconnect of logic in this law, and all Michiganders benefit when we make the justice system more fair.”

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Allison R. Donahue
Allison R. Donahue

Allison R. Donahue covers education, women's issues and LGBTQ issues. Previously, she was a suburbs reporter at the St. Cloud Times in St. Cloud, Minn., covering local education and government. As a graduate of Grand Valley State University, she has previous experience as a freelance researcher for USA Today and an intern with WOOD TV-8. When she is away from her desk, she spends her time going to concerts, comedy shows or getting lost on hikes in different places around the world.