Though Florida’s economy has seen a turnaround in the last few years, an outdated practice revoking drivers’ licenses for failure to pay court fines and fees limits our economic potential.
Over the last 10 years, Florida has become one of the largest economies in the world. As a former speaker of the Florida House, I know firsthand just how far we’ve come. I saw national headlines flip from questioning our survival to crediting us as an aspiration. As far as we’ve come, there is still work to be done and I don’t want to see us jeopardize our progress by insisting on an outdated practice that traps families in poverty and hinders our economic growth.
A recent study found that more than 700,000 Floridians currently have a suspended driver’s license — not because they are dangerous drivers, but simply because they could not afford to make a fine or fee payment.
The assumption is that taking someone’s license away will incentivize them to pay up and generate revenue for the state. But studies have shown it has the opposite effect, making payment less likely and taking a serious toll on Florida families and the economy.
What this does is trap hundreds of thousands of families in a cycle of poverty. Fines are often excessive to begin with, and after 90 days, court debts are sent to private collections agencies that can add up to 40% of the total amount due. A minor infraction can lead to thousands of dollars in debt as collection charges pile up. Very quickly, an already impossible amount becomes completely insurmountable. When they can’t afford to pay, their driver’s license is suspended.
This has profound consequences for our economy. While nearly half of all Florida’s small businesses report being unable to fill employee vacancies, license suspensions are significantly shrinking the labor pool available to employers. Today, 1 in every 24 adults in Florida are unable to legally drive in a state where 90% rely on cars to get to work. Critical jobs in trucking, construction and hospitality are going unfilled.
If a person can’t keep their job or get to work, they cannot pay off their outstanding fees. It’s no surprise that for most people it takes years to regain their licenses. More than two-thirds of the suspensions enacted in 2016 remained in effect in 2019.
With less income, families spend less — which also hurts local businesses — as well as paying less in sales taxes. In 2019 alone, Florida missed out on nearly half a billion in consumer spending as a direct result of debt-based license suspensions.
Because of this high rate of suspension, all Floridians pay higher car insurance premiums — on average about $78 more per year. As a result, Florida has one of the highest rates of uninsured drivers in the country.
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Across the country, conservative lawmakers are realizing the harm of these practices. Two dozen states — including Texas, Utah, Mississippi, Idaho, Montana, and West Virginia — have recently stopped or curbed debt-based license suspension. Now it’s our turn. I urge our legislators to use this session to pass legislation ending Florida’s payment-for-license practices.
Will Weatherford is a former speaker of the Florida House of Representatives (2012-2014) and current managing partner at Weatherford Capital.