SPRINGFIELD — Drivers would no longer lose their driver’s licenses over unpaid parking tickets and other nonmoving violations under a bill that made its way through the Senate last week.
Senate Bill 1786, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Omar Aquino of Chicago, would remove the secretary of state’s authority to suspend or revoke driver’s licenses for failure to pay certain fines including parking tickets and nonmoving violations.
“I am glad to see the state of Illinois taking action against the injustices perpetuated by the city of Chicago,” Aquino said. “For too long my city has balanced their budget on the backs of black and brown communities by coercing money from them with the threat of having their license suspended.”
The measure comes a year after ProPublica Illinois studied how unpaid tickets financially harm the African-American community. Aquino said the news group’s Ticket Trap series by Melissa Sanchez and David Eads was one of the reasons he filed the bill.
According to the series’ data analysis, 44 percent of driver’s license suspensions issued were to residents in black communities and 54 percent of license suspensions issued were to residents in low-income communities.
“This kind of legislation could help alleviate some of that,” Sanchez said.
Aquino said without reliable transportation, people’s livelihood is “threatened” — especially when they live in rural areas without public transportation.
“This bill is essentially a license to work,” Aquino said. “People cannot pay their fines if they cannot drive to work. That applies to people in Chicago and people in rural areas as well. Without reliable public transportation, taking away someone’s license for an inability to pay fees is punishing people for being poor.”
Senate Bill 1786 now heads to the House for consideration. A similar measure passed out of House committee last week.
House Bill 2523 would allow drivers to be able to keep their driver’s license despite having fees or fines for local ordinance violations. It would require local governments to conduct a financial hardship hearing before suspension of a license for unpaid fines or penalties, as a result of 10 or more violations of local standing, parking or compliance regulations.
It also calls for a qualified person to make a payment plan to the local government, which may not pursue other means to collect on the debt. If the driver misses a payment, the city may pursue collection of the debt after 60 days. A fourth missed payment would be considered noncompliance, according to the bill.
“Your license is so important,” said Democratic Rep. Marcus C. Evans Jr. of Chicago. “Your license helps you get a job, a license gets folks around to their families, to their doctor’s appointments. Ultimately, we don’t want you, just because you’re poor and you can’t pay your fees and fines, [to have] your license suspended.”
Ben Ruddell, criminal justice policy attorney for the ACLU of Illinois, said tens of thousands of driver’s licenses are suspended each year for “reasons that have nothing to do with driving.”
He said this leads people to have to quit their jobs and forces them into bankruptcy.