License suspension reforms stumble

Kansas Supreme Court staff stepped in this spring to oppose legislation meant to address issues surrounding drivers license suspensions for unpaid traffic fines, an issue pushed by activists for racial justice and the poor nationwide.

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June 1, 2021 - 7:07 AM

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Supreme Court staff stepped in this spring to oppose legislation meant to address issues surrounding drivers license suspensions for unpaid traffic fines, an issue pushed by activists for racial justice and the poor nationwide.

Some measures to address the issue passed and became law. But other efforts to eliminate some fees and to replace some fines with community service stalled after a court official told lawmakers that collecting fewer dollars through reinstatement fees would threaten the courts’ ability to remain open and pay employees. Some advocates think that’s the problem: The court system is overly reliant on impoverished and minority populations for funding.

“The system is formulated to thrive off the backs of poor people,” said Sheila Officer, chairwoman of the Racial Profiling Advisory Board of Wichita. She said states including Washington and California have passed laws ending failure to pay fines as a reason for license suspension.

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