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Tampa lawmaker tackles issue of driver suspensions

Tackling a priority of House Speaker Will Weatherford, Rep. Dana Young, R-Tampa, filed legislation Thursday to address the rampant suspension of driver licenses in Florida, in many cases for non-driving related infractions such as a drug conviction or non-payment of child support.

"Many Floridians cannot drive to work and afford to pay the mountain of fines associated with a suspended or revoked driver license," Young said. "For these individuals, losing a driver license creates a barrier to staying employed and providing for their families."

A report by the Legislature's research arm, OPPAGA, noted that more than 685,000 Florida drivers had their licenses suspended for the 12-month period that ended last June. Data from the state motor vehicle agency showed that Miami-Dade, the most expensive place to live in Florida, had 137,000 suspended drivers last year. and that nearly three times as many of them were black as were white. Most of the remaining drivers were Hispanic.

Young's bill, HB 1181, would prohibit judges from suspending for a first offense of failure to appear in court on a worthless check charge, and give a judge discretion to issue a suspension on subsequent bad-check offenses and for misdemeanor theft charges.

Her bill would reduce from two years to one year the suspension for a drug-related conviction, while allowing the drug treatment and rehabilitation option so the driver can gain reinstatement after six months. A driver who owes support could avoid suspension by beginning to pay the obligation by an income deduction plan, and would allow for consideration of unusual circumstances, such as a driver being on unemployment compensation or incapable of self-support.