HARRISBURG - Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf signed legislation today to repeal a longstanding mandate to suspend drivers’ licenses of people convicted of crimes unrelated to operation of a vehicle, many of them drug offenses. According to the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, the legislation will positively impact more than 20,000 people per year.
“The suspension of a person’s driver’s license for offenses not related to driving has always been illogical and counter-productive,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “A driver’s license is essential for functioning in daily life for many people, especially in areas of the commonwealth where public transportation is limited. And with vast racial and economic disparities in the criminal justice system, this policy has disproportionately impacted people of color and the working poor.
“This bill is a step forward in the effort toward smart justice.”
The driver’s license suspension was implemented in Pennsylvania in 1991 after the federal government threatened to withhold transportation funding from states without such a law. With Pennsylvania’s repeal, only 11 states still have the mandate on the books.
According to PennDOT records, nearly 149,000 people had their licenses suspended as a result of the requirement in a six-year period from 2011 to 2016.
House Bill 163, which was introduced by Representative Rick Saccone (R-Allegheny), ends the suspension mandate for all drug offenses unrelated to operating a vehicle and most non-narcotics offenses, including carrying false identification, underage purchase of tobacco, and truancy. The bill passed the state Senate unanimously and with only one negative vote in the state House.
“The success of this bill shows the positive impact that can occur when Republicans and Democrats work together on justice policies that are fair and thoughtful,” said Elizabeth Randol, legislative director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “The legislature has played a major role in exacerbating the failed War on Drugs. Now our state lawmakers can be champions of unwinding it.
“We look forward to more reforms in next year’s session.”