HB 903/SB 1328 (Fines and Fees) died in Appropriations, its last committee assignment in the House; in the Senate, the bill passed through all of its committees and was referred to the floor.
Florida courts rely heavily on driver’s license suspension as a punishment for nonpayment of court fines and fees. This approach is counterintuitive: it creates a barrier to work, which reduces the likelihood that someone will be able to pay, and it increases the likelihood of recidivism.
In 2017, Florida suspended the driving privileges of roughly half a million people for failure to pay non-criminal traffic violations.
Currently, the state uses suspensions as a compliance tool to collect payment for such traffic citations — for example, running a red light or having an expired tag. This practice has contributed to millions of Floridians with suspended driver’s licenses, with most suspensions typically lasting at least two years. While Florida’s statutes have allowed for payment plans that take into account an individual’s income, it varies widely amongst local clerks. According to a Fines & Fees Justice Center analysis, most clerks were not even using the 2 percent rule of an individual’s annual net income. This has created an inequitable system where those with the ability to pay fare much better than those who cannot.
Before COVID-19, out of the $14 million that remained uncollectible from non-criminal traffic violations in 2017, 43 percent was in 25 counties where families had no residual income — money that’s left over after paying all typical living expenses. These counties also had an average unemployment rate that was higher than the state’s. Under present circumstances the situation is much worse; the unemployment rate is higher, and many Floridians who are experiencing financial challenges won’t be able to make payment. As a result, the state will see a strong decline in collection rates, which will yield a higher driver’s license suspension rate.
We support legislative changes that would prohibit the suspension of driver’s licenses for nonpayment of court fines and fees.