July 16, 2024

AG Derek Schmidt to U.S. Senate: Pass Driving for Opportunity Act to help reduce barriers for success

Office of the Kansas Attorney General

TOPEKA – (August 5, 2020) – Congress should support states that choose to make it easier to reinstate driving privileges for low-income Americans, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt told the U.S. Senate in a letter this week.

Schmidt along with a bipartisan coalition of 23 other state attorneys general, wrote that 40 percent of all driver’s license suspensions in the United States are issued for conduct other than improper driving. For example, many licenses are suspended for failure to pay unrelated fines and fees, which results in millions of Americans being unable lawfully to drive and consequently facing additional obstacles to completing basic household and employment functions. In addition, law enforcement can spend hours processing suspension orders, transporting a driver to jail, waiting for tow trucks and other administrative functions when there is no reason to think the driver may pose a threat to motorist safety.

“Without a license or access to a strong system of public transportation, these individuals lack the means to get to their jobs, bring children to child care; and to get groceries, medical care, and other necessities in the most cost-effective way,” the attorneys general wrote. “They end up in the loop of higher expenses and lower income, and potentially steeper fines.”

The attorneys general urged passage of the Driving for Opportunity Act, a bipartisan proposal to establish a federal grant under the Byrne JAG program to make available additional funding for states that repeal these suspension laws. The added funds could be used to defray the costs of reinstating licenses.

Nearly a dozen states have ended the practice of suspending driver’s licenses for unpaid fines and fees.

In 2019, the Kansas Criminal Justice Reform Commission recommended similar legislation to the Kansas Legislature aimed at easing the re-entry process of inmates back to their communities by making driver’s license reinstatement easier for former inmates. Schmidt serves as an ex officio member of the commission. In addition, legislation mirroring the Driving for Opportunity Act was introduced in the Kansas House but failed to advance during the 2020 session.