Last week the Virginia General Assembly returned to Richmond for a special session to finish up matters left unfinished in the regular session.
One very special piece of legislation was brought up this year. The goal was to eliminate suspension of driver’s licenses for people who could not afford to pay their court costs.
Just to be clear, this is not about people with moving violations. No, this legislation was intended to stop the harsh practice of suspending a license for money owed and affects over 600,000 Virginians.
Why was this practice instituted in the first place? It is illogical. Logical consequences are what make people change their behavior. Any parent knows this. If a young child is playing with something they shouldn’t, you take it away and give them something they can have. If a child is spending too much time playing video games, you unplug it or take the controller away for a short time.
If parents do not pay child support, their wages are garnished and, or, their tax returns taken. Why can’t we do the same with court costs? If you cannot pay your fees in one lump sum, how does it make sense to take your driver’s license away? If that happens, most people will make the desperate choice to continue to drive to work to earn a living to feed their children. If they get caught, there are more fines and possible jail time. Why are we penalizing people for being poor?
The men representing Louisa in the general assembly were in the minority when they voted against this legislation. Are Sen. Bryce Reeves and Del. John McGuire so personally wealthy that they cannot conceive of not being able to come up with a $145 reinstatement fee? A third legislator, Sen. Mark Peake, didn’t even bother to show up.
I remember those days when one unexpected car repair meant we had to decide which bill not to pay. Are these men so out of touch with living in a rural area that they do not understand that personal transportation is essential to employment? This is not a hard concept to understand.
People being able to drive increases employment, boosts local economies, increases school attendance and improves civic involvement. There is no logical reason to continue this dated practice, only hatefulness.
The legislation enjoyed popular support in both the Senate and the House of Delegates, but not with our backward-thinking public servants. It is time to stop punishing the poor.
This fall, every single seat in the Virginia General Assembly is up for grabs. Thankfully, we have options. Delegate McGuire is being opposed by Juanita Jo Matkins, who is a strong supporter of reforming our justice system so that it both protects and rehabilitates. Senator Bryce Reeves is being opposed by both Amy Laufer and Ben Hixon, who are energized to make positive and helpful changes. Louisa, please look into these candidates, volunteer and vote the mean men out of office on Nov. 5.
Editor's Note: this op-ed originally appeared in the April 11th edition of the Central Virginian, and has been reposted here with the author's permission.
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