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Californians Can No Longer Lose Their Driver's License Due To Unpaid Traffic Fines

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Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill last week to end the suspension of driver's licenses as a result of unpaid traffic fines and fees.

Mike Herald is Director of Policy Advocacy for the Western Center on Law and Poverty, which co-sponsored the bill. The organization analyzed DMV data, zip codes and income levels from the census.

Herald says they found the old rules had a disproportionate impact on low-income Californians, particularly African-American and Latino residents, where people could go years and never be able to get their license.

"And of course there's interest that accrues on these fines," Herald says. "So it's like a credit card, where you're paying the bare minimum but you're never really paying it off."

Opponents of the policy change argue that without the stick — the consequence of losing one's driver's license — it's difficult to make people pay traffic fines.

But Herald counters that there's no evidence that suspending licenses actually increases the amount of revenue the state collects.

Herald argues the opposite may be true. He says when people get their license suspended, they often lose their jobs and then have trouble finding a new job, which could lead to a downward economic spiral.

Herald points out the state has other tools to collect revenue, such as garnishing wages or using a collection agency.

According to the Department of Motor Vehicles, 488,000 Californians currently have a suspended license as a result of either failing to pay a traffic fine or failing to appear in traffic court.

Copyright 2017 Capital Public Radio