RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Unpaid court fines are costing hundreds of thousands of people across the Commonwealth the right to drive, but the governor is now considering a bill to make it easier to pay court fines and keep your license.
Aubrey Phillips and Jeremiah Peters are just two of the thousands of Virginians who have had their licenses suspended due to unpaid court costs and say their inability to drive is not just affecting their ability to work, but their personal lives.
“I’m married and have five kids at home, so naturally it affects my family. I’ve had to have extra family support and help,” Phillips said.
Peters echoed this sentiment.
“I have two sons and it’s hard for me to get transportation to them like I want to. Everything has to be arranged or Uber-ed,” Peters said.
Back in January, the governor called for an end to suspending licenses due to unpaid court costs, calling it counter-productive. But with those efforts stalling, he’s now considering a Republican-sponsored bill (HB 2386) that would not do away with suspended licenses but aims to make it easier for those who owe fines to pay. The bill would require judges to take a defendant’s financial status into consideration and offer a fair payment plan.
“Nearly a million people have suspensions on their driver’s licenses for unpaid court debt and of those, 650,000 are suspended solely for that reason,” Pat Levy-Lavelle with the Legal Aid Justice Center said.
Levy-Lavelle represents a number of people in poverty with suspended licenses.
“That, in fact, makes it harder for them to keep up with the basics … makes it harder for them to keep up with court debt, makes it harder for them to move on with their lives,” said Levy-Lavelle.
He said that while he believes the bill is well intentioned, he thinks it should be amended.
“Ultimately the policy of suspending driver’s licenses for unpaid court debt is a bad policy,” Levy-Lavelle said.
The governor’s office has yet to say what, if anything, he will do with the bill.
This is a developing story. Stay with 8News online and on air for the latest updates.