After decades of trying, a broad coalition of community organizations and supportive elected officials have been able to get a bill proposing major reforms in Kansas’ driver’s license suspension laws approved by the Kansas Senate Transportation committee. It’s a step that has supporters optimistic about their chances of getting a bill passed this year that will finally offer help to the nearly 250,000 Kansans who have had their driver’s licenses suspended.
The 2021 Kansas legislative started where the shortened 2020 legislative session left off, with a number of bills filed to offer some financial reprieve to individuals whose driver’s licenses were already suspended and to also help reduce the number of suspensions in the future. Many of the proposed bills offered only minor changes, with the sponsors working on the premise some positive change is better than no change at all.
When it was introduced, SB 100 offered the most significant changes in the state’s driver’s license suspension packages. However, the transportation committee’s approval of a major package of revisions proposed by a coalition of reform minded organizations, Kansans may finally see some of the real reforms in driver’s license suspension laws that are growing in popularity across the country.
“With this bill, “we’ve taken a big bite out of the apple, but we haven’t gotten all cleared up yet,” said Walt Chappell with the Wichita Racial Profiling Citizens Advisory Board.
What Does the Bill do?
The bill clears up some of the most onerous measures of the Kansas’ existing laws, but goes further by requiring all jurisdictions in the state to offer payment plans, sets up a program for a hardship waiver that sets the amount an individual pays on their ticket each month based on their ability to pay, and allows individuals to get their driver’s license reinstated while they’re paying their fines, instead of after they’ve paid off their fines. While some cities are already offering community service as a way to pay off fines, this bill makes it an option that must be offered in all jurisdictions.
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One of the most aggressive changes proposed in the bill is the establishment of a hardship waiver that sets up an individual’s payment plan based on their ability to pay, and more.
Any person who can’t pay their fines or court costs can ask for a hardship waiver to offset part or all of the balance owed. The hardship plan is required to include an option for the individuals to set up either or both a monthly installment payment or a plan for the individual to earn credits for either completing community service or attending court approved classes or both.
For community service and classes, the court must approve the community service or classes before the person receives credit. Once approved, the individual will receive a credit equal to $15 for each hour spend completing the approved activities.
The amount of the monthly payment will set based upon the individual’s ability to pay. The payments will be a minimum of $10 a month or 2% of the person’s annual net income, based on their most recent tax return divided by 12.
The hardship waiver goes even further. If an individual is approved for a hardship waiver, the judge is required to: “recall” warrants for arrest that are issued along with the suspension of an individual’s driver’s license.
“Expunge,” which means to erase and remove, any previous convictions for driving on a suspended that due to the nonpayment of traffic fines and court costs or failure to appear.
After the hardship payment plan is approved, the court is required to send an order of the state’s Division of Vehicles to reinstate the person’s driving privileges without restrictions. The person’s driver’s license can not be suspended due to nonpayment of the hardship payment plan unless the individual fails to pay the monthly agreed-upon amount for 90 consecutive days.
If a court denies a hardship petition, they are required to provide the individual a written explanation of the reason for the denial.
A Few Other Changes
Improved information The bill improves the information that must be provided on tickets to better explain how nonpayment of a ticket or failure to appear by a specified time will lead to the suspension of their license. If this information is not on the ticket, the officer is required to provide the person charged with the traffic violation a form explaining their right to contact the clerk of the court prior to the date to appear written on the ticket to negotiate a plan to pay the fine or fees stated on the ticket.
The ticket must also include the amount of the fine and the phone number, email address and street address of the court they must contact to take care of the ticket, notice to appear, etc.
Payment Plans If an individual reaches out to the court prior to their assigned court date and plead guilty they are entitled to set up a payment plan with the court.
Restricted Licenses Restricted licenses that allow an individual to drive on a limited basis while their driver’s license is suspended will still be available however qualifying for the license is easier. First, the nonrefundable $25 application fee for these licenses is eliminated. Currently, a person does not qualify for a restricted license if they’ve previously been convicted of driving on a suspended license. This bill eliminates that barrier.
Reinstatement Fees Currently, individuals seeking to get their licenses reinstated must pay a reinstatement fee for each violation. Often, one ticket may be for several violations, i.e. speeding, failing to signal and a seatbelt violation. Currently, that individual would have to pay three reinstatement fees. Under the proposed bill, the state will pay one reinstatement fee for each case instead of per violation. The reinstatement fee of $100 would only be collected after the person was determined to be eligible for reinstatement.
Individuals can petition the court that assessed the reinstatement fee at any time to waive payment of the fee. In addition, the proposed bill makes it illegal for jurisdictions to require any additional reinstatement fees.
Remaining the same
Driving on a suspended license will still be illegal will increasingly escalating charges, fines and even jail time.
If an individual fails to pay the fine or make a payment arrangement before the notice appear date on their ticket, a notice will be mailed to them and they will be given 30 days to take care of the ticket before their license is suspended. This is a reason for an individual to keep the address on their driver’s license current, since the notice is mailed to the individual at the address on their license.
According to Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau and Rep. Gail Finney, both of whom have consistently pushed for changes in the state’s drivers license suspension laws, now is not the time to consider these changes a done deal, but to get busy lobbying to make sure they pass.
With 250,000 Kansans standing to benefit from these changes, it’s hard to believe that enough pressure can’t be put on members of the Kansas House and Senate to get strong revisions to the driver’s licenses suspension laws approved this year.
“Reach out to your elected official and let them know that you and others in this situation want, more than want, need to see these kind of changes happen,” said Finney.