Lawmakers may change Kansas law on revoked driver's licenses

driver with license

Can't afford your traffic tickets but still need to drive? Kansas lawmakers consider help

Jason Alatidd,  Topeka Capital-Journal  September 8, 2023


Kansas lawmakers are looking for ways to help low-income people avoid losing their driving privileges if they can't afford to pay a traffic ticket.

"Here today my goal was to talk about revoked driver's license drivers to see how we can help them," said Oletha Faust-Goudeau, D-Wichita, who has long championed efforts to help people with driver's license issues due to unpaid tickets and associated fees.

Faust-Goudeau's legislative proposal calls for, among other provisions, allowing people with revoked licenses to get restricted driving privileges that legally permit them to go get groceries, take children to school and go to work.

Kansas Department of Revenue data show about 208,000 drivers have a suspended license, with roughly 59% of those due to unpaid tickets. About 13,000 drivers have a revoked license, of which about 13% are due to driving while suspended or without insurance and unpaid tickets.

The Legislature's Special Committee on Restricted Driving Privileges, which met last week, was largely in agreement that something should be done to make sure people in poverty don't have their lives upended by a traffic ticket. But legislators and their conferees didn't have a consensus on exactly how to proceed and asked staff for more information prior to an Oct. 10 meeting.

"By then, I hope we all have a framework of which direction we want to go," said Senate Vice President Rick Wilborn, who chairs the special committee.

'In Kansas, you either drive or you starve'

License suspensions and revocations can upend the lives of people, even when intended to be temporary.

"If you ask some of the families in Kansas, this has been a permanent life sentence," said Sheila Officer, chair of Wichita's Racial Profiling Advisory Board.

Officer has worked with people who attended workshops on the issue, and some of the people have had their license suspended for more than 15 years.

"Now I don't know about you, but I can't imagine doing my daily tasks without a driver's license, being able to drive," she said.

Richard Harris, a former Wichita traffic commissioner who now works with unhoused people, said driver's license issues can lead to homelessness.

"It is extremely common to find out that somebody lost their driver's license, couldn't drive, lost their job, lost their home, (in) some cases lost their family in the cascading series of disasters that falls out from this extremely bureaucratic and costly process," Harris said. "It's something that we need to look at not only for simply humanity, but as a practical business decision."

Harris has first-hand experience.

When he was a younger man, he didn't pay a traffic ticket, which led to him driving without knowing there was a warrant, getting pulled over and arrested with his car towed and impounded.

"The judge made some effort to work with me, but I just simply didn't have any income because I'd lost my car," Harris said. "And guess what, I lost my job. ... The situation snowballed to the point that I lost my home."

Walking, biking and taking a bus to work are impractical for many people, he said.

"It is simply unrealistic to expect people to get by without a car in Kansas," Harris said. "In Kansas, you either drive or you starve. And what we're looking at here today is creating a system where people don't starve and where businesses aren't deprived of the necessary resources and human capital to get the job done."

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