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Fee amnesty for suspended drivers begins in January in Ohio

New amnesty program aims to cut fees, restore licenses for some drivers. Oakwood Republican to push for more reforms.

More than a third of the 1.1 million Ohioans who have suspended driver licenses will have the chance to get behind the wheel again under a new reinstatement fee amnesty program that seeks to remove a hurdle for some to go to work or school.

The six-month program, which begins Jan. 31, isn’t available to people whose offense involved alcohol, drug abuse or a deadly weapon. It’s only open to those whose licenses are suspended for 25 specific offenses — including 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.

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.

The goal is to protect the public while helping people get gainful employment, said state Rep. John E. Barnes, co-sponsor of the bill.

“For the individual who’s had a long-term suspension of their driver’s license and they have met the obligations of the court, it is a great opportunity for a fresh start,” said Barnes, D-Cleveland, of the law approved in June.

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State Rep. John Barnes Jr. D-Cleveland, co-sponsored the bill that grants driver license reinstatement fee amnesty for six months. (Staff Writer)

Driver license suspension laws were written over the years to make roads safer, punish people for offenses, force them to meet financial obligations, and to fund court and state operations.

RELATED: What you need to know about changes to Ohio driver’s licenses that are now in effect

People can have more than one active suspension at a time, for example when they get caught driving without a license and get a second suspension. The total number of active suspensions in the state was 3.3 million, according to the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles.

There were more than 482,500 active suspensions in 2017 in Butler, Champaign, Clark, Darke, Greene, Miami, Montgomery, Preble and Warren counties. The number of individuals with suspended licenses in those counties isn’t available from the state.

Driver license suspensions by county - Dayton Region - 2017 
CountySuspensions
Butler114,295
Champaign7,236
Clark61,940
Darke11,622
Greene26,467
Miami14,241
Montgomery215,251
Preble5,699
Warren25,773
Total482,524
  
Note: Individuals can have more than one suspension. So these numbers are total suspensions, not total individuals with suspensions 
Source: Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles

Suspensions and the 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, you can lose your license. You can also lose it for dropping out of high school or getting caught smoking as a juvenile. It can be suspended if you miss a court date or fail 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.

Ohio driver license suspensions, 2017

About 410,000 people statewide will be eligible to apply for the fee amnesty program, said Lindsey Bohrer, spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Public Safety.

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.

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State Rep. Jim Butler, R-Oakwood, had co-sponsored a bill that would have allowed people with certain non-vehicle related offenses to automatically get restricted driving privileges to places such as work, school and the doctor. His proposal didn’t make it out of committee but he plans to re-introduce it next year.

People with fee arrearages can sometimes gain driving privileges by getting on a payment plan. Current law allows, but doesn’t require, a court to grant limited driving privileges during a court-ordered suspension. But Butler said there isn’t always a way for a person to even get a court hearing. People who don’t have money for fees also may not be able to afford an attorney to go to court.

State Rep. Jim Butler, R-Oakwood, will reintroduce his bill that would allow some people with suspended driver licenses get limited driving privileges. CHRIS STEWART / STAFF (Staff Writer)

Butler’s bill would require that a court grant limited driving privileges for people whose licenses have been suspended for non-vehicle and juvenile offenses. That includes those in arrears for child support payments.

“Our bill seeks to remedy something that should be common sense to everyone, which is if you are taking away someone’s ability to drive for a non-driving related offense as a punishment, you should certainly allow that person to be able to continue to drive to work and school,” Butler said. “Any system that automatically suspended a person’s driving privileges for failure to pay their child support so they can no longer get to work to earn money to pay their child support is nonsensical.”

Driving is a privilege, said Shannon Isom, president and chief executive of the YWCA Dayton. But a lack of a pathway for restitution limits people’s potential and stability.

Shannon Isom is president and CEO of the YWCA Dayton. CONTRIBUTED (Staff Writer)

“Young people in communities, which are already stressed, are being piled upon. Licenses are being suspended for lifetimes — literally,” she said.

Isom, who also is a member of the Dayton Daily News Community Advisory Board, said the six-month amnesty is a good start but the state needs to do more.

“The state can ensure penalties are not lifetime sentences, pigeon-holing communities and constituents to cyclical lack; or the state can ensure provisions and standards that are practical and reachable; and not a lifetime deterrent to forward movement and betterment,” Isom said.

Kyle Jones, 28, of Dayton, said his license was suspended for failure to comply with an officer’s order and doesn’t think he is eligible for amnesty, but he hopes to be able to get his license back soon.

“It’s hard to do anything, even the simplest task like going to the grocery,” Jones said. “Everything is not on a bus line.”

Ohio’s new driver license reinstatement fee amnesty

Allows for reduction or waivers of fees owed

Waiver requires proof of indigence

Temporary amnesty from Jan. 31, 2019 to July 31, 2019

Applies to limited number of offenses

Individuals must have completed all court-ordered sanctions

Offense cannot have involved alcohol, a drug of abuse or a deadly weapon

How to apply for driver license reinstatement fee amnesty:

Complete Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles’ amnesty application form #2829

Obtain form from local Deputy Registrar or online at www.bmv.ohio.gov

Call (614) 752-7500 to have a form mailed to you

Offenses eligible for the new Ohio program to have driver license reinstatement fees waived or reduced
Unruly child
Delinquent child
Juvenile traffic offender
Solicitation with a motor vehicle
Theft of gasoline
Incompetence by examination
Operating vehicle without proof of insurance
Failure to pay security deposit, or failure to request a hearing after receiving notice regarding a motor vehicle accident
Default on a payment that was required by written agreement after a motor vehicle accident
Nonpayment of a judgment
Repeat traffic offender
Violation of a municipal ordinance that is substantially similar to a statutory violation that imposes a suspension
Suspension under the federal Assimilative Crimes Act
Reckless operation
Failure to appear or failure to pay a fine related to specific vehicle-related violations
Incompetency adjudication
Commission of specific motor vehicle offenses by a minor
Habitual absence from school
Wrongful entrustment of a motor vehicle
Use of an electronic wireless communication device by a minor while driving
Street racing
Failure to stop for a school bus
Failure to stop after an accident
Failure to stop after a nonpublic road accident
Trafficking in cigarettes or tobacco products with intent to avoid tax, when a motor vehicle was used in the offense
 
Source: Ohio Legislative Service Commission

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