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Oregon Governor Kate Brown Forgives More Than $1.8 Million in Fines That Led to License Suspensions

Ria Roebuck Joseph | Center Square contributor

(The Center Square) – Oregon Governor Kate Brown issued an order last week that forgave uncollected court fines and created a pathway for drivers with debt-based license suspensions to regain their licenses. Drivers who failed to appear in court and had their licenses suspended are also remitted.

The governor found that the loss of licenses created a downward spiral for financially challenged Oregonians as courts routinely suspended licenses for nonpayment “without any inquiry into the financial circumstances of the driver or their ability to pay.” The forgiven amount from Oregon’s circuit court cases was approximately $1.8 million. The amount forgiven from municipal and justice courts remains unknown.

Two years ago Brown signed into law House Bill 4210 that forbade the suspension of drivers’ licenses for nonpayment of fines emerging from traffic offenses. This latest order would extend the same privileges to drivers with licenses sanctioned before Oct.1, 2020. The order does not cover fines owed to victims hurt by traffic offenses or misdemeanor and felony traffic infractions.

Approximately 7,000 residents representing 13,300 cases will benefit from the order which will make it possible for licenses that were suspended for lack of payment, to be reinstated by the DMV. A statement from the Governor’s office said that Brown’s directive “removes the associated collateral burdens that disproportionately impacted low-income Oregonians and people of color from a state statute that has since been rewritten.”

Those who stand to regain driving privileges did not have suspensions related to the endangerment of public safety. Since the debt-based suspensions are due to the inability to pay, many of the fees owed are three or more years past due and are considered uncollectable. In fact, about 84% of the debt is liquidated and classified as uncollectable by the Oregon Judicial Department.

Brown stated, “The inability to pay a traffic fine should not deprive a person of the ability to lawfully  drive to work, school, health care appointments, or other locations to meet their daily needs.” Data from the Oregon Judicial Department reveal that license suspension as a debt collection is ineffective as well. in the second year of nonpayment collection rates drop to 10%, and past three years, the rate of collection is even lower at 4%.

The remission order does not result in a pardon or record expungement and violations remain part of the driving record of impacted individuals.

“We know that suspending driver’s licenses for unpaid traffic fines is bad public policy – it is inequitable, ineffective, and makes it harder for low-income Oregonians to get ahead. My action today will help alleviate the burden of legacy driver’s license suspensions imposed under a statutory scheme that the legislature has since overhauled,” Brown said.

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