Barfoot: Driver’s license suspension bill set to return to 2023 session
By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News
The Alabama senator who pushed in the 2022 legislative session for longer grace periods before Alabamians lose their licenses due to unpaid traffic tickets and court fines said he wants to see the proposed law presented again in 2023.
Sen. Will Barfoot, R-Pike Road, recently told Alabama Public Television’s Capitol Journal that people can pay their fines for several years, but miss a payment and lose their licenses.
“I think it’s punitive,” Barfoot said. “Certainly there comes a time when if you don’t pay court-ordered court costs and fines, we would have to suspend your license, among other things…but I think some jurisdictions are using it prematurely.”
The bill quickly and easily cleared the Alabama Senate earlier this year, but died in the House without a final vote on the last day of the session.
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall opposed the bill and earlier this summer told the Capitol Journal that part of his opposition was because the same issue was at the center of it. a case in federal court.
“We were actively arguing this issue in court when this bill was dropped in the middle of the legislative session,” Marshall said.
In 2019, a Montgomery woman, represented by the Southern Poverty Law Center, filed a lawsuit against Alabama Law Enforcement Agency Secretary Hal Taylor, seeking declaratory judgment and an injunction. for herself and “all people whose driver’s licenses are suspended for non-payment of tickets”.
She had lost her license for around $300 in fines which she said she could not afford in 2013.
The district court, and then the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in May, dismissed the case, citing statute of limitations issues.
Marshall’s office said Tuesday it had no comment on the proposed 2023 legislation.
Barfoot said he does not allow people to be “free” without paying fines or showing up in court.
Senate Bill 117 in the 2022 session said courts could only suspend a license for non-payment of a fine, royalty, or court fee if “the individual fails to make half or more of the required payments within one year of the court order, or fails to make any additional payments one year after the court order.
The Appleseed Center for Law and Justice and its Workers Drive Alabama advocated last year to end the suspensions.
Appleseed research director Leah Nelson said there was a contentious House Judiciary Committee meeting in the spring on the bill, but it led to needed conversations about road safety and what what the bill does.
“People have legitimate questions about this,” Nelson said. “…The most important thing to understand is that currently people’s driver’s licenses can be suspended because they accumulate points on their license for habitual dangerous driving and there is nothing about that that would change due to of our legislation. We don’t want that to change.
“…But we have a parallel system of suspending your license for unpaid tickets. And that doesn’t make sense. »
Barfoot said not having a license isn’t just a transportation issue. He said some large employers require a driver’s license as a condition of employment.
A UAB report earlier this year indicated that the state of Alabama was losing $804.86 in tax revenue per suspended license, even after collecting the court debt.
Nelson said Appleseed will continue to advocate with lawmakers ahead of the March 2023 session so Alabama residents don’t lose their licenses because they’re poor.
Barfoot is currently deputy chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, but said he told leaders he would like to be chairman for the new quadrennium that begins next year. The current chairman, Sen. Tom Whatley, R-Whatley, lost his first bid.
Nelson said it’s unclear who could sponsor the bill in the House.
Representative Merika Coleman, D-Pleasant Grove, sponsored the House version. She won’t be in this chamber next year because she’s the Democratic nominee for a state Senate seat.