Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

Opinion

September 24, 2013

MAUREEN HAYDEN: Is pulling a license good public policy?

Ind., other states wrestling with issue

(Continued)

Republican state Rep. Jud McMillin, a former deputy prosecutor from Brookville and a study committee member, said the question is complex. Pulling someone’s license because he’s a threat to public safety makes sense. But pulling the license of someone who isn’t a threat also creates an economic barrier for someone with a criminal record who has paid his debt to society and wants to become a productive, taxpaying citizen.

Other states are wrestling with this issue.

In May, the Minnesota Court of Appeals overturned a district court ruling striking down a law that allows the state to suspend a driver’s license of anyone who is three months behind in child-support payments. The appeals court rejected the district court decision that noted in part the law was more harmful to people who live in rural areas where public transportation is rarely available.

In Florida, the ACLU is suing the state over a law that requires the Department of Motor Vehicles to automatically suspend the driver’s license of someone who hasn’t paid court fees. The ACLU argues the penalty harms the poor and has caused more than 211,000 Floridians to lose their license that way.

Earlier this month, a local sheriff in Massachusetts urged his state legislature to pass a law that would let drug offenders keep their licenses after a conviction. He argued that not having a driver’s license makes recidivism more likely for newly released inmates because they have a difficult time getting their license back and paying their reinstatement fees.

Here in Indiana, policymakers are raising similar concerns. “We’re worshiping at the altar of deterrence,” said Larry Landis, who’s on the study committee as head of the Indiana Public Defender Council. “We keep ratcheting up penalties, saying, ‘If people know they’re going to lose their license, then surely they won’t do “X”.’ It’s based on the mythology that if we make the penalties so severe, nobody in their right mind is going to commit this offense. If that were true, there would be no crime of any sort.”

Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse Bureau for the CNHI newspapers in Indiana, including the Kokomo Tribune. She can be reached at maureen.hayden@indianamediagroup.com.

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