Criminal Justice Reform is taking a new twist this year in the Kansas Legislature. While the focus in the past has been on reducing the penalties for felonies and misdemeanors, both violent and non-violent, this year the focus is on something far less offensive — traffic tickets and the subsequent suspension of licenses for failure to pay the fines.

Two bills in the Kansas House, and one in the Senate, have been introduced to lessen to address some of the concerns expressed by many of the 200,000 Kansans whose driver’s license is currently suspended.

HB2547 and SB 275 address a state law that Sheila Officer, chair of the Racial Profiling Citizens Advisory Board of Kansas, finds especially onerous. Under current state law, once an individual pays all their outstanding fines, penalties and reinstatement fees required to get their license back if one of their charges was driving on a suspended or revoked license, they have to wait for an additional 90days to have their license reinstated.

“Why,” ask Officer. “Why make them wait longer. They’ve already been without their driving privileges for a period of time, this is just a case of piling it on.”

SB275, and HB 2547, as amended and passed out of committee, eliminate the waiting period.

In addition, HB2547 reduced the reinstatement fee per violation from $100 per violation to $25 HB 2547 per violation. In addition, HB 2547 eliminates the $25 application fee to apply for a restricted license. Restricted licenses, an amendment to the statute approved a few years ago, allows drivers to drive on a restricted basis such as to and from work and directly to and from medical appointments.

HB 2547 codifies the recommendations of a Criminal Justice Reform Commission appointed by Gov. Laura Kelly. Members of the commission included elected officials, representatives of the courts and the law enforcement community. With their backing, this bill appears to have a good chance of passing this session.

Already the bill has been voted favorably out of committee and should get a vote on the House floor ahead of the Feb. 27 turnaround deadline. If a bill doesn’t get voted favorably on by this date, it’s dead for this session.

Another bill, HB 2434, introduced by Rep. Gail Finney (D-Wichita) proposes eliminating suspending a person’s license strictly because of their inability to pay the fine.

Officer says “Kansas license-for-pay driver’s license system is not about being an unsafe driver, but rather being an unfortunate driver. The state’s “regressive” fee structure, that doesn’t take into consideration a person’s ability to pay, “holds hostage one’s ability to maintain and sustain their livelihood and family.

As a regressive fee, a $100 speeding ticket is far more onerous to a person working for minimum wage than it is for a person making $100,000 per year.

Officer was among a church van of people who drove to Topeka this week to testify in support of this bill. In addition, she has a list of other reforms she’d like to see added to the law, including requiring municipalities to offer community service as a way to pay off fines.

Without the backing of the Criminal Justice Reform Commission, this bill may not have a speedy path to passage, but Finney says she’d committed to bringing the bill back again and again until she gets it through.

Bonita Gooch

Since 1996, Bonita has served as as Editor-in-Chief of The Community Voice newspaper. As the owner, she has guided the Wichita-based publication’s growth in reach across the state of Kansas and into...

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