Should Oregon drivers be subject to having their licenses suspended for not being able to pay fines and fees? The system’s been in place for many years, but maybe not for much longer.
The Oregon House of Representatives took a step toward ending that practice this week, when they passed House Bill 4065, which would make it so drivers no longer have their licenses suspended simply for failing to pay court fines and fees.
Rep. Chris Gorsek (D-Troutdale) has been a longtime champion of the legislation. On the House floor Tuesday, he said the practice is devastating to people’s lives, depriving them of reliable, lawful transportation necessary to get to and from work, or to their critical obligations.
“A system that relies on debt-based driver license suspensions creates a vicious cycle of increasing debt and wastes state resources,” Rep. Gorsek said in a press release. “Public safety should not be tied to debt collection, and this bill is an important move to create a public safety system where everyone can thrive.”
According to the Oregon Law Center, more than 334,000 license suspensions have been issued in the last decade. These suspensions, which impact individuals who are unable to pay fines and fees, perpetuates cycles of debt and poverty, and deprives individuals of the ability to get to work, school or the doctor.
Further, according to data recently released by the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission, black and Latinx people are disproportionately stopped, ticketed, charged and convicted. As a result, fine and fee-based license suspensions disproportionately impact communities of color, in addition to low-income Oregonians.
“Suspending licenses when someone can’t pay isn’t effective,” said Rep. Carla Piluso (D-Gresham), a chief sponsor of the legislation and former Gresham police chief. “Taking a driver’s license away from an Oregonian for not paying a fine or fee does not make our roads safer. Without a license, people face impossible choices.”
Piluso said data shows that debt-based suspensions are not linked to positive public safety outcomes.
“Oregon already has a mechanism in place to suspend driver licenses when people have too many violations,” she said. “It is important to end use of a policy that negatively impacts people simply because they don’t have money.”
Proponents of HB 4065 claimed bipartisan support, and the bill did indeed enjoy sponsorship from both sides of the aisle, including from Rep. Christine Drazan, House Republican Leader and state representative from Canby. However, every non-absent Democratic member of the House voted for the measure, while 16 of 22 Republicans voted against.
The bill has also not been well-received by local commenters online.
“If one can’t afford the consequences of one’s actions, perhaps it would be wiser to be more careful about not breaking the law,” said one local resident on the Canby Now Podcast’s Facebook page.
“This is ridiculous!” added another. “Zero consequences for poor decisions. People need to be held accountable. No wonder we have problems with drugs, thefts, etc.”
The bill, which passed 42 to 16, now heads to the Senate for consideration.
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