During the 2020 legislative session I will continue to push for a legislative change to require oversight of electric utility companies by the Kansas Corporation Commission; working with the Alpha Kappa Alpha (AKA) sorority to obtain a distinctive license plate; and as a member of the Kansas Criminal Justice Commission I will be co-sponsoring several different criminal justice reform bills.

One of the primary bills that I will also personally sponsor this session, will be a suspended driver’s license reform bill. This bill would provide that a person’s driver’s license cannot be suspended for failure to pay a fine, fee, or restitution. A person with a driver’s license currently suspended for failure to pay may file a petition with the court to reinstate their license, and if the court confirms that the only reason for the suspension was failure to pay, the license will be restored without the need for payment of a reinstatement fee.

The State of Kansas currently suspends the driver’s licenses of people who fail to pay court-ordered fines and fees even if they are too poor to pay. In 2018, Kansas had the fifth highest suspension rate in the country. As of Oct. 10, 2019, more than 213,000 Kansans had their driver’s licenses suspended for nonpayment of a ticket or fine, according to the Kansas Department of Revenue. These suspensions not only prevent people from earning the money they need to pay their court fines, but also undermines their ability to support themselves and their families.

A driver’s license is critical for many low-income Kansans to navigate their everyday life tasks, particularly those who live in rural areas. Public transportation in Kansas is sporadic and unreliable. Imagine living for a year or more without transportation to your job, your doctor, school, for childcare, your probation officer, or even the grocery store. Catching rides costs friendship and friction amongst some family members, and Uber/Lyft is unaffordable for many. Hundreds of thousands of low-income Kansans face this problem every day because they cannot afford to pay their traffic tickets. When people do not pay tickets or appear to contest them, Kansas suspends their driver’s licenses.

Kansas makes it harder on people to get or keep a job by taking away their only means of reliable transportation. When a person driving with a suspended license is stopped by law enforcement, they typically get a ticket, may be subjected to more fines, and may even be arrested and end up incarcerated. This practice also harms employers, who lose access to an enough workforce when their employees cannot get to work. These suspended driver’s licenses force an awful choice on citizens to either stop driving and lose access to work, childcare, health care, food, and other necessities, or keep driving on a suspended license and risk criminal charges and more unaffordable fines and fees. Most people who are not able to afford to pay their fines, usually keep driving out of a need of necessity because they have no other option to support themselves and their families.

I believe that it is imperative that we take the steps now to change these archaic suspended driver’s license policies that criminalize poverty and disproportionately harm African Americans and low-income communities.”

During the 2020 Session, feel free to contact my assistant or me at 785-296-7649 or gail.finney@house.ks.gov.

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