Bipartisan Bill Would End Virtual Debtors' Prison
Lawmakers look to automatic driving privileges to break cycle of job loss, unemployment, fines, jail time

State Reps. Emilia Strong Sykes (D-Akron) and Jim Butler (R-Oakwood) today announced legislation to end virtual debtors’ prison in Ohio by granting automatic restricted driving privileges for low-level offenses unrelated to driving, like failing to pay court fines or late child support payments.

“As Americans, we believe in a justice system that is fair and impartial,” said Sykes. “But in Ohio, we have been trapping lower and middle-income taxpayers in a downward spiral of job loss, debt and jail time for low-level offenses. With this commonsense bill, we can break this cycle, further justice and get people back to work.”

Though courts may grant driving privileges without House Bill 260, punishment can vary widely and ultimately result in job loss when someone loses their ability to get to work for falling behind in court fines or child support payments. In Ohio, a person could eventually end up in jail if a license suspension results in job loss and additional fines that can’t be paid.

“This bill is about as straightforward as they come,” said Rep. Butler.  “The intent of this legislation is to discontinue the unfair practice of suspending a person’s license, and then not granting them driving privileges for work or school, when the offense they committed had nothing to do with driving or with using a vehicle for criminal reasons.  Under the bill, the privileges will be granted automatically in such circumstances.  In many, if not most cases in Ohio, people need to be able to drive to and from work to earn a living or receive training and education.  It makes absolutely zero sense to punish someone who couldn’t pay a fine by making it harder for them to get to work, which they need to do to be able to pay the fine.”

House Bill 260 will be referred to a House committee in the coming days for testimony and public hearings. 

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