Bill introduced to stop mandatory driver’s license suspensions for nondriving drug convictions

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ST. GEORGE — Rep. A. Cory Maloy, R-Lehi, introduced legislation that aims to make automatic driver license suspensions for nondriving drug offenses a thing of the past.

House Bill 144, titled the Driver’s License Suspension Amendments, would eliminate the option for a judge to suspend a person’s driver license for a drug offense unless the court finds the person was operating a vehicle at the time of the offense. It also would prohibit the Driver License Division from suspending an individual’s driver license under the same conditions.

Utah’s current law mandates driver license suspensions after a drug conviction, whether a vehicle is involved or not.

If the bill is passed, penalties for those convicted of driving while under the influence of drugs would remain the same, but those who have drug convictions that have nothing to do with driving will be able to retain their license.

The bill was sent to the House Rules Committee Monday.

Mandatory driver’s license suspension for nondriving drug offenses

Historically driver’s license suspensions targeted drivers who engaged in a range of unsafe behaviors behind the wheel, such as reckless driving, driving impaired or leaving the scene of an accident. If convicted of these crimes, individuals had their license suspended and were often required to attend driving courses.

Legislators in the 1980s began introducing harsher punishments designed to deter crime, one of those being automatic driver’s license suspensions for any drug offense, whether it involved driving or not, according to the Prison Policy Initiative.

Under the premise that harsher punishments deter crime, lawmakers argued for the license suspensions, but according to an evaluation by the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, “there is no evidence which indicates that suspending a person’s driving privileges for social nonconformance reasons is effective in gaining compliance with the reason for the original nondriving suspension,” the 2013 report states.

In 1991, federal law threatened to withhold a portion of states’ highway funding if they didn’t suspend driver’s licenses after a drug conviction, prompting Utah law to follow suit and the law has remained unchanged.

Since then, nearly 40 states have taken advantage of a provision in the law that allows them to opt out of the program, leaving 12 states that continue to suspend driving privileges for nondriving drug offenses.

For the more than 7,000 Utahns who have their licenses suspended each year for nondriving drug offenses, the current law can lead to less mobility and unreliable transportation, resulting in the loss of employment and increased economic instability.

Fiscal impact of HB144 

The fiscal impact for the individuals affected, as well as the Department of Public Safety Restricted Account, is outlined in the fiscal note made public Tuesday.

If the bill passes, there would be a one-time fee of $2,000 in 2018 from the Department of Public Safety Restricted Account for database programming, while it could save the department $33,000 per year beginning in 2019 in processing workload costs, savings that would be offset by a $450,500 loss of Department of Public Safety revenue.

In 2017, nearly 7,000 suspensions did not involve operating a vehicle, therefore, if the bill passes it will save individuals who would have been suspended under the current law the reinstatement fee of $65, for an estimated combined savings of $450,500 annually, reducing the license reinstatement revenue to the department by the same amount beginning in 2019.

Maloy was in session and could not be reached for comment.

Read more: See all St. George News stories related to Utah’s 2018 legislative session

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