New law waives crushing license suspension fee

VERMONT — Gov. Peter Shumlin on May 31 signed a law to help Vermonters who have had their licenses suspended and seen the debt pile up to the point where, in many cases, they can no longer afford to pay the fines to get back on the road legally. It is estimated that around 50,000 Vermonters have suspended licenses due to failure to pay non-criminal traffic fines. The governor signed the law just over a year after he and Chittenden County State’s Attorney TJ Donovan launched a series of Driver Restoration Days to help Vermonters in this situation. The new law makes further Restoration Days unnecessary.
“The system is clearly broken when there are tens of thousands of Vermonters with suspended licenses for failure to pay traffic fines,” Gov. Shumlin said. “Fines are supposed to serve as a deterrent, not a permanent economic disability that keeps people from legally driving to work or taking their kids to school. This law will help those Vermonters who have fallen into the trap of additional fines and mounting debt get back on the road legally and will enhance public safety. I want to thank State’s Attorney TJ Donovan for recognizing this problem and taking the lead on solving it.”
The legislation, H.571, terminates all non-criminal suspensions from before July 1, 1990, and creates a statewide Driver Restoration Program, which will allow Vermonters to pay off outstanding traffic tickets for $30 a piece. Under that program, Vermonters will have from Sept. 1, 2016, to Nov. 30, 2016, to participate and pay off outstanding tickets. Details on this program will be forthcoming from the Department of Motor Vehicles. The law also ends the practice of issuing license suspensions for underage possession of tobacco, failure to pay purchase and use tax, and false public alarm convictions.
In February 2015, Gov. Shumlin and State’s Attorney Donovan launched Driver Restoration Days as a way to help Vermonters who had fallen behind on traffic fines. Two Restoration Days were held in Chittenden County and Windsor County and thousands of Vermonters paid off overdue traffic fines. The governor signed H.571 at Costello Courthouse, the site of the first Driver Restoration Day.
Christopher Curtis, staff attorney for Vermont Legal Aid and co-chair of the Governor’s Council on Pathways from Poverty, was also on hand for the bill signing. The council’s latest annual report to Gov. Shumlin identified license suspension as a significant barrier to economic advancement for Vermonters who find themselves unable to pay these fines. Curtis said that almost 40 percent of Reach Up families identify transportation as a primary barrier to success — he said many of them cannot afford to pay ticket fines and end up being unable to drive.
“This is an important step in getting thousands of Vermonters back on the roads safely, legally and affordably,” said Christopher Curtis, a Legal Aid attorney and co-chair of the Governor’s Council on Pathways from Poverty. “We see transportation barriers every day in our practice and this new law will help many to get back on the road to opportunity.”

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