Photos from the event
Senate Bill 132 furthers state’s efforts to reform justice system
Wilmington, DE – Legislation signed by Governor Jack Markell today would end the automatic suspension of driver’s licenses for Delawareans who fail to pay fines for minor traffic offenses and who don’t pose a traffic safety hazard. Senate Bill 132 represents another step in a broader effort to transform Delaware’s criminal justice system by recognizing that the state’s policies must both allow for more appropriate penalties and sentences than in the past, while also focusing on what happens to people beyond those punishments.
“This law upholds our principle that people should be held accountable for their actions, including traffic infractions,” said Markell, who called for the changes made by SB 132 in his State of the State address. “But it also recognizes that in some instances, particularly for our most vulnerable citizens, including ex-offenders, onerous requirements like significant fines and court fees can prevent ex-offenders from holding a job, going to school, and caring for their families. Everybody should work to pay back what they owe, but it’s in everyone’s interest to keep people safely on the road with a valid license, registration, and insurance as they work to put their lives on track.”
Under the law signed today at the New Castle DMV facility, individuals with outstanding fines or fees for minor traffic offenses will not be able to renew nor receive a duplicate license until such fees are paid. However, their licenses will not be suspended in these cases. Suspension is reserved for offenses affecting traffic safety such as reckless driving, driving under the influence, leaving the scene of an accident, or multiple speeding violations.
“Too many well-intentioned people were seeing their driving privileges revoked while they were simply going to work, supporting their families, and saving up whatever money they could to ultimately cover their fines,” said Sen. Margaret Rose Henry, D-Wilmington East, the prime sponsor of SB 132 in the Senate. “With the Governor’s signature today, no longer are we asking these folks to choose between their livelihood and driving with a suspended license.”
“We recognize that driving is a privilege, not a right. But that privilege also carries a lot of day-to-day responsibilities,” said Rep. J.J. Johnson, D-Wilmington Manor. “If we take away someone’s ability to drive for simple outstanding fines, then they won’t be able to get to work, take their kids to childcare, make doctor’s appointments or run basic errands. All that does is compound the issue and penalizes people twice. This new law will ensure that we don’t over-penalize people while still maintaining a more serious penalty for more serious offenses. It’s a fair solution to a serious issue.”
SB 132 builds on work since the beginning of the Markell Administration to transform the criminal justice system, ensuring more people can have the opportunity to reach their potential. Today’s signing complements a push Markell led in 2014 to eliminate mandates that cause non-violent offenders to lose their driver’s license even when their crime isn’t related to driving. As a result, nearly 800 non-violent offenders per year are having their driver’s licenses returned after being released.
That law and the one signed today recognize that one of the most important measures of whether someone will contribute fully to society and not get into trouble is whether he or she has a job, and it is much harder to get and hold down a job for an individual who can’t travel to and from work.
Other initiatives since the Governor took office include:
- The Justice Reinvestment Act, which helps ensure that people aren’t behind bars if it’s not necessary and that the state better examines the services ex-offenders need to live productively in the future.
- The I-ADAPT re-entry program, which brings together five state agencies to create individualized reentry plans that include employment support, health care, and housing.
- A Department of Correction effort to hire ex-offenders into a job training program, while as well as investments in Culinary Arts and Automotive Service training programs.
- Banning the box on state job applications so that more than two thousand ex-offenders who apply for state jobs have a better shot at employment.
- Restoring judicial discretion in state sentencing laws by permitting judges – when appropriate – to impose concurrent rather than consecutive sentences for multiple offenses.
“For a long time our justice policies were too focused on handing out stiff punishments for even low-level, non-violent offenses, and less focused on what happened to people beyond those punishments,” said Markell. “And it wasn’t making us any safer. Instead, our laws made it unreasonably hard for people to get their lives back on track, meaning they were less likely to fully contribute to their communities and more likely to get in trouble again.”