Login | December 11, 2017

Bill would end practice of suspending driving privileges for non-driving offenses

KEITH ARNOLD
Special to the Legal News

Published: November 22, 2017

A bipartisan lawmaker duo seeks to upend Ohio courts' practice of suspending an offender's driving privileges in instances in which the offense is unrelated to driving or using the vehicle in a criminal manner.

House Bill 260, jointly sponsored by Republican Rep. James Butler Jr. of Dayton and his Democrat counterpart Rep. Emilia Strong Sykes of Akron, tackles the issue in a roundabout fashion - the bill would require courts to grant driving privileges to people who commit non-motor vehicle offenses in light of the requisite license suspension.

"It makes sense that if you commit an offense with a motor vehicle your right to drive be reviewed and, if warranted, suspended," Sykes told House lawmakers seated on the Transportation and Safety Committee. "If the offense does not involve a motor vehicle, why are we punishing people by taking their license? Why are we making it impossible for a parent to earn gainful employment to pay their child support?

"More than half of the offenses listed in HB 260 are drug related - why are we taking the opportunity for people to get to treatment?"

As long as there exists no element of the offense for which the imposed suspension relates to the operation or physical control of a motor vehicle or the failure to comply with a requirement for the use, possession, or registration of a motor vehicle, and the suspension is not required to be imposed due to the involvement of a motor vehicle in the offense or the failure to obtain a valid license or permit for the operation of a motor vehicle, HB 260 would have common pleas, municipal, county, and mayor's courts grant specified limited driving privileges to criminal offenders whose licenses are suspended.

"Currently the law states that courts may grant driving privileges, but it does not require that they do so when the offense is not motor-vehicle related," Sykes continued. "I believe that granting driving privileges to non-motor vehicle offenses is the best way to help people start a new path."

In addition to testimony in support of the bill from left-leaning organizations, such as the ACLU of Ohio and the Ohio Justice and Policy Center, the non-partisan Ohio Conference of AAA Clubs took the opportunity to restate the organization's national policy: The suspension of one's driver's license should only be imposed if the offense actually involved a motor vehicle in its commission.

"While (HB 260) still does allow the judge to use discretion in applying a suspension, this legislation would no longer make it mandatory," conference representative Ric Oxender told committee members. "Too often suspensions are imposed for an offense that has no relationship to a vehicular violation and often times this places a great hardship on the offender.

"Representatives Butler and Sykes have well presented these hardships and AAA agrees that there is no reason for such suspensions that may result in loss of employment and present other unwarranted personal hardships."

Butler characterized the current practice of suspending driving privileges as both detrimental and counterproductive.

"Under current law, a driver can have his or her license suspended, without privileges to drive to work or school, for an offense like failing to pay child support or failing to pay a municipal fine in a timely manner," he said. "The typical reason most people fail to pay in those situations is they are already in desperate economic circumstances.

"Is it really fair suspend their driver's licenses without granting them certain driving privileges, making it that much more difficult to get to work, which will allow them to earn the income they so badly need?"

The lawmaker said the state's criminal justice system must cease implementation of license suspensions as an arbitrary punishment.

"It is unjust to hinder someone's the ability to get to work, and to interfere with their ability to live up to personal obligations," Butler continued. "Our system should only fully suspend or revoke a person's driver's license if they are truly a danger behind the wheel, or if they are using vehicles for criminal purposes.

He said he recognizes HB 260 as a means of making the state's legal system significantly more fair and just.

"To strip someone of their ability to get to work, get their children to daycare, school or doctor's appointments is nonsensical and does not get to the deserved behavioral compliance," Sykes said. "We cannot expect people to better themselves if we take away one of the primary tools they have at their disposal to do that very thing."

A third hearing of HB 260, which has cosponsorship support of 17 fellow House members, had not been scheduled as of publication.

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