Thursday, February 22, 2018
Politics

Steve Bousquet: Is Florida suspending too many drivers' licenses?

The state of Florida is in the business of driving people into poverty.

Don't take my word for it. Listen to House Speaker Will Weatherford, a Republican from Wesley Chapel, who couldn't believe how often the state suspends drivers' licenses: It happened to nearly 700,000 people last year.

In a pre-session interview with the Times/Herald, Weatherford called for cheaper, in-state tuition at state universities for children of undocumented immigrants. He was discussing income inequality when he cited the frequency — and, in his view, the injustice — of so many suspensions during the past year.

"If you go look at the data, they didn't pay a fine," Weatherford said. "They forgot to show up in court. They didn't pay their child support. There's this snowball effect. They lose their driver's license. Now they can't get to work. They get pulled over on a suspended driver's license. Now they go to jail. Now they owe $4,000. It creates poverty. It holds people down."

A total of 685,489 drivers in Florida had their licenses suspended in the fiscal year that ended last June. The law allows for a "business purposes only'' license in some cases, but not for people who lose their licenses because they failed to pay fines.

And 167,000 of those suspensions had nothing to do with driving.

Failure to pay child support is grounds for suspension. So is a drug-related conviction, failure to appear in court on a worthless check charge and truancy by a minor. There are hundreds of kids under age 16 in Florida whose future licenses have been suspended because they habitually skip school, even though their licenses don't yet exist.

A new report by the Legislature's research unit, the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability, found that more people received nondriving-related suspensions in the past year for failure to pay court costs than for any other reason.

The report also found that suspending licenses for nonpayment of child support is effective because many parents complied rather than risk having their licenses suspended.

But nearly two-thirds of people who got their licenses reinstated after paying penalties for writing bad checks had been driving with suspended licenses for two years or longer.

That's risky business.

A motorist who knowingly drives with a suspended license can be charged with a second-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine. A second offense could mean a year behind bars, but many drivers stay on the road illegally because they have to get to work and simply can't afford to pay a fine.

Weatherford's point about a link between suspensions and poverty is seen in the numbers. Miami-Dade, the state's most populated county and the area with the highest cost of living in Florida, had 137,000 suspended drivers last year. Nearly three times as many of them were black as were white (43,000 to 15,000). Most of the remaining drivers were Hispanic.

A Miami-Dade lawmaker, Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, has filed a bill (SB 302) to let motorists work off their fines by performing community service.

It's a statewide problem. Pinellas had 30,000 suspended drivers in the past year; Hillsborough had nearly 44,000.

Contact Steve Bousquet at [email protected] or (850) 224-7263.

Comments
Romano: Welcome to Florida, a state more afraid of conversation than guns

Romano: Welcome to Florida, a state more afraid of conversation than guns

Gun advocates are absolutely right about this:A ban on assault weapons will not end school shootings.How do we know?Because there was a federal ban on assault weapons for 10 years, and mass killings persisted. That’s because a ban deals only with fut...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Focused on Cuba’s future, Rep. Castor skips meeting with Raul Castro

Focused on Cuba’s future, Rep. Castor skips meeting with Raul Castro

TAMPA — One highlight of a congressional delegation’s visit to Cuba this week was an impromptu meeting with President Raul Castro.But not for U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor.The Tampa Democrat joined five other Democrats on the trip, in part to investigate th...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Melania Trump’s parents are legal permanent residents, raising questions on ‘chain migration’

Melania Trump’s parents are legal permanent residents, raising questions on ‘chain migration’

The parents of first lady Melania Trump have become legal permanent residents of the United States and are close to obtaining their citizenship, according to people familiar with their status, but their attorney declined to say how or when the couple...
Published: 02/21/18
Alex Trebek will moderate a Republican debate in the Pennsylvania governor’s race

Alex Trebek will moderate a Republican debate in the Pennsylvania governor’s race

We’ll take "surprising side gigs" for $1,000! "Jeopardy" host Alex Trebek will moderate a debate among Republican hopefuls vying for the Pennsylvania gubernatorial nomination.The longtime game show star will be questioning candidates at an Oct. 1 for...
Published: 02/21/18
Spring Hill candidate for Congress: ‘I care about this community — I will scream that from the rafters’

Spring Hill candidate for Congress: ‘I care about this community — I will scream that from the rafters’

SPRING HILL — A Hernando County woman new to the political arena has filed as the fifth Democrat to run against longtime Florida lawmaker U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster for his spot in the U.S. House of Representatives.Dana Cottrell, 49, has lived in Sprin...
Published: 02/20/18
Updated: 02/21/18
St. Petersburg regatta to Havana again buffeted by politics

St. Petersburg regatta to Havana again buffeted by politics

The 2017 St. Petersburg-Habana Yacht Race was celebrated as more than a competitive regatta to Cuba’s capital city of Havana.The relaunch of the maritime competition canceled since 1959 was hailed as a reflection of the detente started under former P...
Published: 02/20/18
Special counsel files new charge in Russia probe

Special counsel files new charge in Russia probe

WASHINGTON — The special counsel investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election charged an attorney Tuesday with lying to federal investigators about his interactions with a former Trump campaign official. A charging document filed in federa...
Published: 02/20/18
Man featured on ‘Trump Dating’ site has child sex conviction

Man featured on ‘Trump Dating’ site has child sex conviction

GREENSBORO, N.C. — A North Carolina man with a felony conviction for indecent liberties with a child was one-half of the poster couple for a new "Trump Dating" website.News outlets reported Monday that visitors to the dating site geared toward suppor...
Published: 02/20/18
Ex-workers at Russian ‘troll factory’ trust U.S. indictment

Ex-workers at Russian ‘troll factory’ trust U.S. indictment

Associated PressST. PETERSBURG, Russia — While Russian officials scoff at a U.S. indictment charging 13 Russians with meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, several people who worked at the same St. Petersburg, Russia, "troll factory" say t...
Published: 02/19/18
Trump offers support for limited effort on background checks

Trump offers support for limited effort on background checks

Associated PressWEST PALM BEACH — From the confines of his Mar-a-Lago golf club, President Donald Trump offered support Monday for a limited strengthening of federal background checks on gun purchases while staying largely mum in the past few days ab...
Published: 02/19/18