By TIM CARPENTER
TOPEKA — Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau says state law revoked driving privileges for failure to pay a traffic citation should be amended to give motorists the opportunity to apply for a restricted license so they could get to work and earn money to pay off the any penalties.
Faust-Goudeau, a Wichita Democrat who led efforts in the Kansas Legislature for previous changes to traffic law, told Senate colleagues Tuesday the idea was to open a path for an estimated 3,300 Kansans to secure a limited-use license. With that in hand, she said, those individuals could earn an income that could be devoted to paying fines, obtaining insurance and taking care of their families.
The state operates a program allowing more than 180,000 Kansans with suspended licenses to get back on the road with approval of the Kansas Division of Motor Vehicles. Kansans with a revoked license tied to nonpayment of fines or fees don’t qualify for the existing state program.
“It will simply allow them to participate in the current law within the restricted driver’s license program,” Faust-Goudeau said. “Senate Bill 2 will certainly help those Kansans who want to go to work, they want to be law-abiding citizens. It will help them drive legally, make payments to the court and have insurance.”
The bill carving out the reprieve wouldn’t be available to people with DUIs or other major driving infractions. Nor could Senate Bill 2 be used by individuals convicted for driving with a canceled, suspended or revoked license more than three times. A person granted this restricted license by the state Division of Motor Vehicles would forfeit it if found guilty of another violation tied to suspension, revocation or cancellation of the license.
Sen. Mike Peterson, a Wichita Republican and chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, said he expected the committee to work toward approving a bill to address the issue.
“This is an important bill. We want to obviously have more insured drivers on Kansas roads. Having more insured drivers makes us all safer and is good public policy for Kansas,” said Sen. Ethan Corson, D-Prairie Village.
A divergent coalition endorsed the legislation, including the NAACP, Americans for Prosperity, the Kansas Chamber and a representative of three Kansas law enforcement associations.
Jonathan Lueth, deputy state director of the Kansas chapter of Americans for Prosperity, said a Wisconsin study from 2017 indicated a valid driver’s license was often a better predictor of sustained employment than a high school diploma or GED credential. The same study, he said, revealed people with a driver’s license were twice as likely to have an income above the poverty level.
“We want to make sure we are providing folks an opportunity to break out of what can at times become a vicious cycle of failure to pay, incurring additional penalties, failing to pay back on those penalties and then snowballing from there,” Lueth said.
Marilyn Harp, former executive director of Kansas Legal Services, said the nonprofit National Safety Council declared suspension or revocation of licenses for non-moving violations, including failure to pay a traffic ticket, weren’t in the best interests of public safety.
“Their policy, at this point, is that driver’s license suspension should be limited to highway and traffic safety behavior,” Harp said.
She said the Legislature previously accommodated in statute the motorists charged with DUI by allowing those individuals back on the road through installation of an ignition interlock device. However, state statute didn’t address individuals who had licenses revoked for failure to pay a fine.
Glenda Overstreet, representing the Kansas chapter of the NAACP, said state lawmakers had an opportunity to “give people a reasonable opportunity to take care of their families, to be able to secure and ensure that they are able to keep a job and then also to be able to go to school and be productive citizens.”