State Rep. Bronna Kahle’s plan to eliminate unnecessary driver’s license suspensions and end the over-criminalization of low-level traffic offenses in Michigan was approved today by the Senate.
Kahle, of Adrian, said the proposal received unanimous bipartisan support in both the House and Senate and now advances to the governor for her possible signature.
“The fact is, our criminal justice system is broken,” Kahle said. “It’s counterproductive to penalize a struggling single mom who can’t afford to pay a fine or a working dad who can’t get the time off work to appear in court by taking away their driver’s licenses. Doing that creates a huge barrier to getting to and from their jobs and results in many people making the difficult decision to drive on a suspended license – a decision that later often lands them in jail.”
In 2018, Kahle said Michigan suspended nearly 358,000 driver’s licenses for failure to appear in court or failure to pay court fines and fees. Thousands more suspensions occurred for other violations completely unrelated to driving safety, such as failure to pay child support and possession of a controlled substance.
The Michigan Joint Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration was formed last year to study the state’s criminal justice system. The task force found Michigan’s jail population had tripled in just 35 years, and most admissions were for misdemeanors and low-level offenses. Driving on a suspended license was the third-most common reason for someone to be admitted to jail.
Kahle and a bipartisan coalition of state legislators developed a plan of action based on the task force’s recommendations, with a goal of reducing barriers to employment for people who commit minor infractions and refocusing the use of jail and other public resources on cases that truly involve a danger to the public.
Specifically, House Bill 5846 would eliminate license suspensions for violations of state law unrelated to dangerous driving. House Bill 5853 would also reclassify many traffic misdemeanors as civil infractions, so people would have the option to pay a ticket rather than making an appearance in court. Both measures are sponsored by Kahle.
“This plan will go a long way toward fixing our broken criminal justice system by taking a smarter approach to low-level crimes,” Kahle said. “Eliminating unnecessary driver’s license suspensions and reclassifying low-level traffic misdemeanors as civil infractions makes sense for everyone involved. It’s going to save time for residents, law enforcement and court staff, and it allows our courts and law enforcement officers to focus their time and attention on more serious issues, ultimately making our communities safer.”
Rep. Bronna Kahle today voted in favor of funding to help continue the state’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic – starting with additional support for students and families.