FILE: Clark County Sheriff’s Deputy Mark Lane and Sgt. Merrill Thompson of the Ohio State Highway Patrol check drivers to make sure they are wearing their seatbelts as they leaving Catholic Central High School. The safety check kicked off their Click It Or Ticket campaign that runs through June 4. Bill Lackey/Staff

Local groups helping drivers get suspended licenses back

Several local groups are helping area residents get their drivers licenses back by showing them how to avoid speed bumps in a new statewide program that could allow more than 400,000 Ohioans to reclaim their suspended licenses at no cost.

Ohio’s new six-month fee amnesty for drivers who had their licenses suspended started Jan. 31. More than 100 people from the Dayton area attended a workshop Monday at the Dayton Metro Library’s Northwest Branch to find out what they need to do to recoup their licenses.

“What we wanted to do was actually reach into the community and help people on a one-to-one basis and help people that may need a little bit more help walking through the system,” said Bill Dudley with the Miami Valley Organizing Collaborative, one of the groups that sponsored the workshop.

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Monday’s workshop was likely the first of several being planned by the Collaborative, along with Advocates for Basic Legal Equality, Legal Aid of Western Ohio, Public Health Dayton and Montgomery County and the Dayton Council on Health Equity Program, said Dudley

More than a third of the 1.1 million Ohioans with suspended licenses are eligible for the program that is only open to drivers who lost their licenses for certain offenses. Montgomery County has some of the most drivers with suspended licenses in the state. There are around 215,000 in Montgomery County, Dudley said.

Some of the 25 specific offenses include operating a vehicle without proof of insurance, juvenile delinquency or truancy, failure to stop for a school bus or after an accident and reckless operation. People with driving offenses that involved alcohol are not eligible to apply.

A Dayton Daily News investigation a year ago found a growing bipartisan demand for the state to reform its license suspension laws, many of which have nothing to do with driving. As of January, there were more than 482,500 active suspensions in 2017 in Butler, Champaign, Clark, Darke, Greene, Miami, Montgomery, Preble and Warren counties.

The goal of the amnesty program is to protect the public while helping people get gainful employment, said state Rep. John E. Barnes, a co-sponsor of the bill that brought an idea for the program to fruition. It’s important for people to have a driver’s license so they can get access to health care, food and a job, Dudley said.

“Giving people a way to get their driver’s licenses back just impacts so much stuff that goes on in our community,” Dudley said.

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Suspensions and reinstatement fees — which range from $15 to $650 per offense — can pile up. In 2017, 1.1 million Ohioans had a suspended driver license — nearly 12 percent of those old enough to drive in the state.

Some suspensions have nothing to do with driving. If you don’t pay your child support, drivers can lose their licenses. Licenses can also be suspended for dropping out of high school or getting caught smoking as a juvenile. It can be suspended if a person misses a court date or fails to pay court fines on misdemeanors charges.

Nearly 240,000 suspensions statewide were for nonpayment of child support in 2017, according to data obtained by the Dayton Daily News through a public records request. More than 12,000 were for school drop-out suspensions.

RELATED: Ohio’s fee amnesty for suspended drivers has started but only lasts six months

The amnesty applicant must have completed all other court-ordered sanctions and have had the license suspension for at least 18 months. People who are indigent can have their reinstatement fees waived and others can have them reduced under the amnesty law.

Dudley and others are hopeful the amnesty program — which ends July 31 — can be expanded to more drivers and continued longer than the initial six month period.

“(I) hope this is the first step,” Dudley said. “People need to be able to drive and need to be able to get around.”

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