More than 100,000 people who’ve had their Mississippi driver’s license suspended for failure to pay their fines will soon be able to have a valid license.
Lawsuits filed by two advocacy groups around the state have led to a decision by the Department of Public Safety to reinstate licenses suspended under those circumstances and to waive the $100 reinstatement fee.
The change goes into effect in January.
The announcement was made Tuesday in a news release from the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center at the University of Mississippi School of Law and the DPS.
The DPS also will no longer suspend licenses of those who fail to make court-ordered payments, the groups said.
“Being poor in Mississippi is hard enough without having your license suspended just because you can’t afford to pay off outstanding fines,” said Cliff Johnson, director of the MacArthur Justice Center at the University of Mississippi School of Law.
“We don’t have subways or other reliable public transportation in Mississippi, and a suspended license makes it impossible to legally drive to job interviews, take loved ones to the hospital, pick your kids up from school, or even go to church.”
The DPS will send letters to those who qualify that their licenses are no longer suspended. Those whose licenses have expired during a suspension will get instructions on how to get a new one.
DPS has hired staff to handle restoring licenses.
But the news doesn’t mean drivers with a suspended license can legally drive until their licenses have been restored, and it won’t relieve drivers of their legal obligations to pay their fines, DPS Director Marshall Fisher said.
“We will continue to suspend licenses for other reasons allowed under Mississippi law, and we certainly take it seriously when people drive with suspended licenses,” Fisher said.
The new procedure will remain in place until “future significant developments occur,” such as a law change, Fisher said.
SPLC and the MacArthur Justice Center maintain that Mississippi courts have not been following the law in the collection of fines and fees and have disregarded the rights of indigent defendants.
“We commend the state of Mississippi for taking steps to ensure that in the future, no one will lose their license if the only reason they failed to pay a traffic ticket is that they simply did not have enough money,” said Sam Brooke, SPLC deputy legal director.
“We also welcome Mississippi’s decision to reinstate licenses that had been previously suspended because people were unable to pay. Poverty is not a traffic crime. There is a growing recognition across the country that people should not face additional punishment just because of their poverty, and that includes taking away their driver’s licenses when they can’t pay fines.”
Anyone with questions can call the DPS Driver Records Division at 601-987-1224 weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.