Reform a top priority of criminal justice reform
BOSTON- Senator Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton) voted yesterday to pass Senate Bill 2014, An Act relative to motor vehicle license suspension.
This bill repeals the current law that subjects individuals convicted of a non-violent drug offense to an automatic license suspension for up to five years and a license reinstatement fee of $500, even if the offense does not involve motor vehicles in any way. Thirty-four states, including every other New England state, have already taken action to repeal similar laws.
“This legislation is about ensuring that once a person convicted of a drug offense has served their time, he or she has one more tool to return to society as a productive citizen, a driver’s license, which dramatically increases the ability to find gainful employment,” said Senator Eldridge, a co-sponsor of the bill. “In Massachusetts, we live in a society that punishes people who break the law, and then fails to give them the necessary opportunities and skills to avoid returning to a life of crime. Passing S.1812 will mark a significant step away from this backwards way of thinking. As a strong critic of the War on Drugs, from which this law was applied in Massachusetts in 1991 by the federal government, I’m very pleased that the Senate is taking the lead on criminal justice reform.”
The bill would have no effect on license suspension penalties for driving under the influence of alcohol or other drugs, and only removes the outdated state requirement that penalizes every drug offense with a license suspension, even for non-driving offenses. It will also allow anyone previously subject to this provision to have their license reinstated without a fee.
“Today, the Senate took an important step towards reforming our criminal justice system by taking off the books an ineffective and unfair law that made it harder for those who have paid for their mistakes to re-enter society,” said Senate President Stan Rosenberg (D-Amherst). “Approximately 7,000 people had their license suspended last year due to a drug conviction even if that conviction had nothing to do with the operation of a motor vehicle. That’s 7,000 people who cannot drive to their jobs and miss court dates and rehabilitation meetings, making it harder for them to rejoin their families and their communities.”
“When people re-build their lives after a drug conviction, they face obstacles such as probation fees, court costs, and the stigma of having a CORI. In addition, there is a special penalty just for them,” said Senate Majority Leader Harriette L. Chandler (D-Worcester). “I have sponsored this bill for years and believe that unduly burdening folks trying to straighten their lives with a license suspension and subsequent draconian reinstatement fee creates unnecessary barriers to re-entry, and is in fact, counterproductive to our society.”
“There’s no evidence that suspending a driver’s license for a drug offense unrelated to the operation of a vehicle is a deterrent for the crime,” said Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz (D-Boston). “What’s more: we want people who have been convicted of drug crimes to return home and make different choices. For many people, having access to a driver’s license is a gateway for obtaining and maintaining employment, seeking medical services, including addiction treatment, transporting children, and participating in the local economy, all things that help keep them on a pathway to success. Blocking people from doing that encourages them to cycle back into our criminal justice system and is a huge drain on our communities and our state’s coffers. I’m proud to have worked with Senator Chandler and our colleagues in the Senate to eliminate these barriers to rehabilitation.”
Driving records currently include non-driving license suspensions. Prospective employers and others can purchase warrants from the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) for under $10. This can be used as a “back door CORI” check, where employers purchase RMV records for the purpose of obtaining information about criminal records, even if they would normally be sealed, expunged, or shielded by CORI reform.
The bill prevents these checks, which harm the chances of employment for individuals convicted of a drug offense, and shields driving records revealing CORI information from public view. However, information would still be available to RMV employees and others with a legitimate need for access.
The bill now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.