New law helps drivers with suspended licenses get back on the road

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TOPEKA — A new law now in effect gives Kansans with suspended driver’s licenses a clearer avenue to get back on the road.

Under the law, Kansans who are struggling to pay fines and fees can ask a Judge to reduce or waive the charges based on hardships. The law also removes a 90-day suspension or revocation period that drivers had to meet after satisfying the terms of the original suspension. Now, once those fees are paid the driver’s license is reinstated.

In addition, people convicted of driving with a suspended license are no longer barred from the state’s Restricted Driver’s License program. The law also removes a $15 non-refundable fee to apply for the restricted license, which was previously mandated even if one did not qualify for the program.

Sen. Oletha Faust Goudeau, a Wichita Democrat, has long championed legislation lowering barriers to driving due to fine-related issues. She said the measure would ensure those affected would be able to do the basics — drive to school, work or to the doctor — while working to pay back those costs.

“This bill does a lot to help those Kansans that we want to go to work and be self-independent, and to be able to provide for their families,” Faust Goudeau told her Senate colleagues before they voted on the measure in April. “I truly believe that without your help, it is very unlikely that some Kansans, because of high traffic fines that have accumulated for them over the years, will ever be able to drive legally again. 

The bill passed the House and Senate without opposition in April before going into effect May 6. 

According to data collected by Kansas Legal Services from the Kansas Department of Revenue more than 213,000 Kansans have suspended licenses. Around 70% of those suspensions are related to issues paying fines and court fees.

About half of those suspensions are people in Sedgwick County, part of which Faust Goudeau represents.

“Suspending licenses for unpaid fines or fees is an ineffective policy that only deepens poverty and economic harms in Kansas,” said Mike Fonkert, campaign director for Kansas Appleseed.

Under another provision of the law, Kansans whose driver’s license expired between March 12, 2020 and March 31, 2021, have until June 30, 2021 to renew their license.

The law also makes commercial driver’s licenses renewable online for most license holders and raises the age for renewal of licenses online from under age 50 to under 65. While most who testified spoke in support of these provisions, the Kansas Optometric Association did express concern with extending the age despite assurances protocols would be put in place to mitigate risks.

“We do have concerns about the higher likelihood of individuals with health problems renewing online,” said Todd Fleischer, executive director of the Kansas Optometric Association. “We continue to encourage the department to develop protocols so that those with chronic health conditions, such as diabetes or glaucoma, not be allowed to renew online.”

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news outlets supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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