In Miami-Dade County, countless driver license suspensions only for failure to pay fines

Recommended task force would look at improving systems and policies surrounding fee-based suspensions

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – Miami-Dade County leaders are looking to change the process of suspending driver licenses over the sole reason of people being unable to afford the fines.

The task force would seek to implement technology to improve county systems and take a hard look at county policies that actually make it harder for people to pay their fines and get licenses reinstated. Which, then in turn, makes it harder for them to get to work to make money for those fines.

“We believe there are over 630,000 suspended driver licenses in the county,” Miami-Dade Commissioner Eileen Higgins said.

That’s out of approximately 2.8 million people in Miami-Dade County. Most of those suspended licenses don’t have anything to do with how someone drives.

“The vast majority of them have had their driver license suspended because they haven’t been able to pay fines or fees,” Higgins said.

It’s an issue Higgins said currently amounts to more than $320 million in uncollected fees and costs.

Additionally, in Miami-Dade County anyone on a payment plan to pay off fines related to parking tickets or court costs is automatically kicked off of that plan if they miss a single payment. They then need to reapply and pay a reinstatement fee to get on that plan.

These are practices that Higgins feels are punitive and do not help the county get the money from these uncollected fees.

Higgins is behind a county resolution to create a Driver License Suspension Task Force. In Florida after just 30 days of failing to make a court payment or appear in court, the state can suspend your license. Fall behind on those payments and fees multiply.

The task force would be charged with looking at how to implement technology that would include text notifications of court dates and fines, rather than traditional mail. That’s because people who may move frequently may miss important notices.

Marq Mitchell had his license suspended for years.

“I was about $6 or $7,000 in court costs; fees that resulted in my driver’s license being suspended,” said Mitchell.

He founded Chainless Change to help people navigate the criminal legal system. He said his own license was suspended around 4 or 5 years after initially getting ticketed when he couldn’t afford insurance; then it was the unpaid court costs.

Mitchell’s hope is that the task force can make compliance more accessible for everyone.

“Not turning your accounts over to credit collections agencies that charge 40 percent more than what you already owe,” Mitchell said.

The task force was approved by the County Commission’s Public Safety and Rehabilitation committee and must be voted on by the full commission for approval. This is an issue that state lawmakers have been considering, too. They would need to enact new legislation in order to do away with the practice of suspending licenses over issues like non-payment of fines and rather only suspect licenses for driving related offenses.

About the Author: