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MN Moves to End Driver's License Suspensions for Unpaid Fines

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Friday, June 25, 2021   

THIEF RIVER FALLS, Minn. -- If a Minnesotan fails to pay a traffic fine or appear in court for a low-level violation, they could lose their driver's license, but a change in the law appears likely, bringing relief to those who say the rule unfairly targets low-income people.

As Minnesota lawmakers try to wrap up work on a new state budget, they're poised to include a provision to do away with driver's license suspension for certain situations.

Anna Odegaard, legislative advocate for the Minnesota Asset Building Coalition, said national research links license suspensions with job loss, especially for people struggling to get by.

"So, what we see is that this license suspension creates a kind of cycle of debt and interaction with the criminal justice system," Odegaard observed.

The nonpartisan Legislative Coordinating Commission reported suspension rates are higher in BIPOC and tribal communities. For those concerned about public safety, bill supporters say the rule remains in effect for serious violations, and unpaid tickets will still be subject to collections. Both the House and Senate have approved transportation spending bills that include the plan.

Catherine Johnson, executive director of the Inter-County Community Council, which helps fight poverty in a handful of northwestern Minnesota counties, said in rural areas, a license suspension can be especially problematic.

"Most folks don't often work in the same community that they live," Johnson pointed out. "And so, having a suspended driver's license just enables them to not get to their job."

Odegaard added stopping suspensions prevents people from making the difficult choice of driving when they shouldn't, or taking a risk to maintain their income.

"Because that enables people to continue driving legally, keep their jobs, take care of their families while they work on paying off their debt to the court," Odegaard explained.

The proposal saw bipartisan support in the Legislature, and also has the backing of a number of legal groups, including the Minnesota County Attorneys Association and Minnesota State Bar Association.


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