State and local governments across the country rely on revenue from tickets, fines, and fees to fund government services. They create frivolous regulations as predatory money-making schemes. For instance, nuisance regulations like loitering, beautification regulations like lawn maintenance requirements, traffic regulations like bans on tinted windows, or quality of life regulations like bans on sleeping in public. Police officers and the courts are employed to enforce the regulations and collect ticket revenue. The sheer number of regulations, which have no bearing on public safety, make it very likely that someone will run afoul of one of the many fine-able offenses at some point in time – especially if they live in Black and Brown communities that are already subjected to over-policing.
The resulting tickets can be hundreds or even thousands of dollars. When people can’t afford to pay, they are subjected to criminal penalties. Debt-based driver’s license suspension is one of the most commonly utilized enforcement mechanisms for nonpayment of fines and fees. When people can’t drive, it’s even harder to pay their fines and fees, and the cycle of debt and criminalization continues.
Now, Congress has the chance to help end the criminalization of poverty and advance racial justice. The Driving for Opportunity Act is bipartisan legislation that provides grants to states that do not suspend, revoke, or refuse to renew a driver’s license of a person or registration of a motor vehicle for failure to pay a civil or criminal fine or fee.
Driving for Opportunity Act funding would encourage states to end debt-based suspensions and get millions of drivers back on the road. Right now the bill is awaiting action by the Senate Judiciary Committee – and there’s no time to waste.