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Published on Friday, March 4, 2016

Relicensing bill passes Legislature, calls on task force to study issue during interim

SB 6360, Sen. Steve O’Ban (R-University Place), requires the Attorney General’s office to convene a work group to look at the creation of a statewide relicensing program that will enable drivers whose licenses have been suspended because of delinquent fines to consolidate their fines into a simple and affordable payment plan. The work group includes a representative from cities, counties, the Administrative Office of the Courts, the Department of Licensing, the Prosecutor’s Office, a public defender, someone from the Washington State Patrol, and others. This work group looks much the same as a group that met through the 2015 interim to discuss the issue. AWC is supportive this bill and looks forward to working on a plan throughout 2016 and 2017.

The idea for the work group comes out of many years of work by stakeholders on this issue. Currently, approximately 375,231 Washingtonians have suspended drivers licenses—representing almost seven percent of the state's population. Nearly 60 percent are based solely on the driver's failure to pay fines and monetary obligations. Most drivers with suspended licenses owe traffic fines in multiple jurisdictions. In order to regain a license, all fines must be paid in each jurisdiction. This can be a difficult task as fines frequently accumulate into thousands of dollars. Most jurisdictions’ payment systems do not “talk” to one another and when a driver finds themselves in a situation where tickets have accumulated, it can be overwhelming to figure out how to work out of the hole created.

While there is a valid argument that the driver landed themselves into this situation, ultimately, both the driver and the jurisdiction lose. Research shows that many suspended drivers would pay their fines if the fines could be consolidated into a single monthly payment they can afford, with the suspension being lifted once the payments commence. Local relicensing programs of this kind have proven very successful in Spokane, Seattle, King County, and elsewhere – both in terms of helping drivers regain their license and in enabling courts to collect more fines than they would have otherwise received.

Advocates believe a single relicensing program that covers the entire state would ensure that any driver able and willing could make affordable monthly payments toward their tickets. This program would not shorten or otherwise affect the terms of any mandatory license suspension or any nonmonetary order imposed by a court or by the Department of Licensing.

SB 6360 requires the workgroup to make recommendations and final feedback to the Attorney General by September 15, 2017. The Attorney General must submit a final report detailing its recommendations and the plan to the Supreme Court, the Governor, and appropriate legislative committees no later than December 1, 2017.