New law overhauls driving restrictions

The new law allows driving to work, church and school, and changes fine payment options.

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State News

May 14, 2024 - 2:05 PM

Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, D-Wichita, praised signing into law by Gov. Laura Kelly a bipartisan bill overhauling the state’s method of dealing with traffic citations, payment of fees and preserving driving privileges. Photo by (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Wichita Democratic Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau said the bill overhauling Kansas law on unpaid traffic fines signed by the governor would reduce suspension of driving privileges and allow people to drive to work on restricted licenses as they attempted to make necessary payments.

Senate Bill 500, signed into law by Gov. Laura Kelly, had many moving parts and took years to refine, but was endorsed 120-0 by the House and 36-1 in the Senate.

“This bill will help those Kansans continue to take care of their responsibilities and contribute to their communities while they work their way through the legal system,” Faust-Goudeau said.

Sen. Rick Wilborn, a McPherson Republican, said he took pleasure in working to bring GOP majorities together with Democrats to “promote solutions for Kansans caught in a loop of mistakes and bad decisions.”

“I’m proud to give eligible drivers a new chance at responsible citizenship,” he said.

Kelly said when announcing signing of the legislation Friday that it was important to reduce red tape for Kansans overwhelmed by hefty fines that blocked reinstatement of a Kansas license.

Reform fine print

Under the new law, which takes effect Jan. 1, 2025, state courts could restrict individuals’ licenses, rather than suspend them, while offenders kept their job, remained in school and attended church services as they continued to make payments on fees owed.

The statute would limit license reinstatement surcharges to a single fee of $100. Existing law imposed separate $100 reinstatement fees for each charge associated with failure to comply with a traffic citation.

The remodeled law would allow a person who committed the misdemeanor crime of failing to comply with a traffic citation to petition the court to reduce or waive payment of court costs. Current law mandated individuals who failed to comply had to pay fees in full within 30 days. If they didn’t, driving privileges were suspended. The new law would instead require an offender to pay the amount ordered by the court.

Courts would have to consider alternative solutions, including alcohol or drug treatment as well as community service, instead of restriction or suspension of driving privileges. The law would prohibit courts and the Kansas Department of Revenue from considering any conviction for a failure to comply older than five years when making determinations on suspension or restriction of driving privileges.

Rep. Ford Carr, D-Wichita, said the legislation was a tribute to the late Wichita Rep. Gail Finney, who passed away in 2022. She was an advocate for reforming laws that had a disproportionate influence on people with modest incomes and people of color.

“Senate Bill 500, for me, is more than just a great bill for Kansans. It’s more than just the right thing to do. It also serves as a reminder of Gail Finney’s powerful legacy in which my footsteps are entrenched, and that good work continues in her absence,” Ford said.

Ag-gag, wildlife

Meanwhile, the governor also signed House Bill 2047 to reestablish prohibitions on flying drones or aircraft over livestock facilities, field crops and research stations to document allegations of animal mistreatment or environmental damage. The legislation responded to federal court decisions undermining the Farm Animal and Field Crop and Research Facilities Protection Act. The so-called ag-gag statute in Kansas was the oldest law criminalizing undercover videotaping of abusive conduct on agriculture properties.

In 2018, the Animal Legal Defense Fund filed a lawsuit challenging on First Amendment grounds Kansas’ quarter-century-old law thwarting covert investigations into the treatment of animals and workers at feedlots, slaughterhouses and in crop production zones. Three years ago, the 10th Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals agreed with ALDF’s legal claim and a lower federal court’s decision to strike down provisions of Kansas’ law.

“There are some places that people just shouldn’t go without permission,” said Republican Rep. Lisa Moser, a Wheaton rancher.

The Senate adopted 34-2 the bill designed to discourage environmental whistleblowers, while the House concurred 108-12.

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