HELENA – A new piece of legislation in Montana would stop the state’s Motor Vehicle Division from taking your driver’s license away if you can’t afford to pay for court-ordered fines and fees for unrelated offenses.
Backers of the bill, which is in the draft phase, say 10,000 people each year in Montana lose their license because of unpaid court fees.
The American Civil Liberties Union said the “poverty penalty” actually makes it more difficult for some to pay the fines because they’re unable to drive to and from work without running the risk of being cited for a suspended license.
During a Wednesday news conference, the sponsor of the bill — Casey Knudsen (R-Malta) — said as a rural state without much public transportation, a valid driver’s license in Montana is essential.
“Government does not need to be making it any more difficult for people who want to be able to work to get to work,” Knudsen said. “And we certainly shouldn’t be using these ever-increasing fines and fees to fund our government.”
For drivers whose licenses have already been suspended due to unpaid fees, the bill would also create a way for them to get their license back.
Knudsen said he has confidence the bill will pass but anticipates much debate in the House and Senate. The bill is a joint effort between Knudsen, the ACLU of Montana and Americans for Prosperity .
-Jacob Fuhrer reporting for MTN News