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Reinstatement fee steep climb.

Byline: Aricka Seales

COLUMN: AS I SEE IT

In 1992, Congress amended the Federal Highway Apportionment Act, which allows the withholding of federal highway funding from any state that does not suspend or revoke driving licenses of people convicted of a drug offense.

While it would seem that this law could ensure safer roads by keeping drug offenders from driving, this law revokes licenses due to drug offenses regardless if they were committed while using a vehicle. Revoking a license for non-driving offenses does not only hurt an individual, but can cause serious side effects in our communities.

Since 1992, the Apportionment Act mandated that states must suspend licenses due to drug offenses; however, the law has since become voluntary if the state can show that it has a more adequate system in place.

Despite this, Massachusetts has continued revoking driver's licenses for reasons that are not related to road safety. Some of these non-driving suspensions involve an individual's failure to pay child support, failure to pay state taxes, or even being convicted of a drug offense.

While most states charge a reinstatement fee between the range of $50 and $150 for non-driving suspensions, the Massachusetts RMV charges an incredible fee of $500. The lower end of reinstatement fees seem more appropriate, particularly when noting that the $500 fee is the same amount that the Massachusetts RMV charges for licenses reinstatement for those who've committed vehicular manslaughter or motor vehicle homicide.

Logic reveals that a majority of those without the means to pay for such a fee will likely fall into the category of people who are already struggling to make ends meet. Can we really expect people to pay $500 for a non-driving offense when nearly 8 percent of Massachusetts residents are unemployed? Without the resources to pay, individuals will likely remain without a license.

For people who lack transportation, and for those limited by weak public transportation systems, the issue is exacerbated as these individuals may struggle to find employment. A study conducted by the Mobility Agenda found that residents with personal vehicles are able to reach more jobs within 30 minutes than those dependent on public transportation.

Suspending a license may even eliminate access to education and job training, which further strains an individual's financial security. So, how exactly does this law enable the payment of outstanding fees or child support if the law revokes an individual's means of income and potential for financial advancement?

Revoking licenses for non-driving infractions can also limit access to a child's school, church and religious functions, friends and family, as well as civil and community activities. In reality, this law does not provide support to those with drug problems; it in fact isolates them from our community completely.

The $500 reinstatement fee will trap individuals in mounting fees resulting in greater levels of unemployment. This has second level affects by creating higher costs for employers to retrain workers due to the loss of an employee who was unable to reach his/her job. The individual's family will also suffer due to loss of income, because the individual cannot find employment due to being unable to drive. Unemployed and unable to pay a $500 license reinstatement fee, more individuals will require public assistance, creating an even greater burden on the state.

However, putting financial concerns aside, those with drug offenses may not be able to access health treatment or recovery programs without transportation. Without treatment, some may even be pushed back into die-hard habits.

If we are to ignore all other consequences of this law, we should at the very least be greatly alarmed when the method being utilized to "cure" our community of drug use is in reality creating barriers for drug treatment.

What is being overlooked with a $500 reinstatement fee for drug offenders is the damage done to individuals and families of our community. Adding an extra barrier by revoking an individual's means of mobility means increasing the rates of unemployment, increasing poverty, and straining public funding to an even greater extent. The question is, why has Massachusetts chosen to continue to utilize a law that perpetuates the problems it attempts to fix?

The Committee for Progressive Legislation, a nonpartisan civil and advocacy organization, located in Worcester, will file with the Legislature in 2012 a bill to lower the reinstatement fee to $100.

Aricka Seales is a graduate student in Clark University's MPA program.

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CUTLINE: Aricka Seales
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Title Annotation:COMMENTARY
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Dec 13, 2011
Words:740
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