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Brandes calls for reform of 'broken' driver license suspension policies

With more than three-fourths of the driver license suspensions in Florida the result of incidents unrelated to driving, the head of the Senate Transportation Committee said Wednesday it is time to reform the system. 

"I believe that Florida’s policy on driver license suspensions is broken, and far too many Florida residents have had their driving privileges suspended or revoked for reasons unrelated to their driving behavior,'' said Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, in a letter to committee members. 

Brandes urged the committee to read a Miami Herald investigation that found that 77 percent of all license suspensions in Florida between 2012 and 2015 occurred because of a failure to pay fees.

In Miami-Dade County alone, 29 percent of drivers currently have suspended licenses, the report found. That’s adds up to about 550,000 drivers, according to the county clerk of courts — the equivalent of filling up the Miami Dolphins’ stadium seven times.

State and local policies use driver license suspensions as a way to punish people for failing to pay fees, such as court costs in criminal cases unrelated to traffic infractions. The policy has the effect of complicating the ability of low-income and moderate-income individuals to get transportation to work, hold jobs, and break out of the cycle of poverty, the Miami Herald report found. 

As chairman of the committee that oversees the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, Brandes said reforming the current system is a priority for him.

"Our goal is to take a deep dive and make sure we are suspending people's driver licenses that should be suspended and, if there is an opportunity to reinstate people's driver licenses, then we should prob look to do that where it’s responsible," he said in an interview. 

He asked DHSMV to address the issue next week during the Sept. 16 meeting of his committee. The panel will also hear from the Florida Association of Court Clerks and Comptrollers and the Florida Public Defender Association to to speak on the topic.

Here is Brandes' letter to his committee: 

Dear Members of the Senate Committee on Transportation, 

Ahead of our committee meeting next week I wanted to be sure that you were aware of this article from the Miami Herald appearing on August 10 discussing the implications of the state’s policy on the suspension of driver licenses. Below is a link to the article:

I believe that Florida’s policy on driver license suspensions is broken, and far too many Florida residents have had their driving privileges suspended or revoked for reasons unrelated to their driving behavior. This pressing problem requires a complete and thorough review by the legislature. 

During our next committee meeting scheduled on Wednesday, September 16th from 4:00PM to 5:30PM we will hear testimony from the Florida Department of Highway Safety & Motor Vehicles on the practice of driver license suspension. Additionally, we will hear from representatives of the Florida Association of Court Clerks and Comptrollers as well as the Florida Public Defender Association.

I invite any Senator with an interest on the matter to join this informative meeting. The goal of our committee meeting will be to gather information in order to better understand the problems facing the state’s policy on driver license suspension. Reform of these policies is a priority for me, and I hope that you will share my interest to address this important issue.

I am confident the committee will collaboratively produce effective legislation to reduce the amount of drivers on the roads with suspended licenses, balancing the interest of public safety with the fair and equitable treatment of our residents.

I invite any recommendations from Senators to accomplish this objective, and I look forward to working toward resolving this important matter of public policy.

Kind regards,

Jeff Brandes