Va. Senate passes bill to end driver license suspension due to unpaid court fees

Va. Senate passes bill to end driver license suspension due to unpaid court fees
On Monday, the Virginia Senate unanimously passed a bill that would end the practice of suspending driver's licenses for unpaid court fees and costs. (Source: WHSV)

HARRISONBURG,Va. (WHSV) — On Monday, the Virginia Senate unanimously passed a bill that would end the practice of suspending driver's licenses for unpaid court fees and costs.

The legislation was passed last April by Gov. Ralph Northam which temporarily reinstated more than 600,000 suspended licenses as a part of a budget amendment.

As a budget amendment, it would only be in effect until June 2020. The General Assembly would have to vote on it again to make it temporary.

The Rockingham County Commonwealth's Attorney Office said they're worried about the possibility of no longer getting the money from those penalties.

"Courts require these funds to continue functioning and without the tax payer, in general, is going to have a larger burden to pay for this," Christopher Bean, Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney for Rockingham County, said.

Bean said suspending someone's license is the only real incentive to get the offender to pay. He said if the bill passes it would take more of their staff's time to collect the cost.

"We send out letters to anyone who has an outstanding court fine or costs asking that they pick that up," Bean said. "We can garnish wages but we don't usually do that unless its a really outrageous amount of money."

Bean said over the years they have seen the number of letters they send out to those who owe increase. He said, on the other hand, he can also understand how the process creates a cycle.

"I completely get that if you lose your license you don't have the money to pay the costs you can't drive the work to earn the money to pay your cost especially in a more rural setting," Bean said.

The bill will still have to go through the Virginia House and then be signed before it becomes a law in July.

Copyright 2020 WHSV. All rights reserved.