New law would repeal driver’s license reinstatement fee

Massachusetts H.B. 3039 was recently introduced to repeal the $500 driver's license reinstatement fee for any person convicted of a drug crime. The bill would also purge driving records of past suspensions. The bill sponsors argue that current law acts as a barrier to those who wish to rebuild their lives and rejoin society as a productive member.

Existing law allows for the suspension of driver's license of anyone convicted of a drug crime for a maximum of five years and imposes a fee of $500 for reinstatement of driving privileges when the period of suspension has expired. On average 7,000 Massachusetts residents are affected each year by the current law. The majority of those affected by the law did not commit a crime involving the operation of a motor vehicle and only 2,500 of those affected are able to afford the $500 reinstatement fee. State revenue from the fee each year totals roughly $1 million.

A recent news story about the bill profiles a 44-year-old Worcester resident affected by the current law. The man was charged with a drug crime while riding his bicycle and sentenced to prison. Upon his release he did not have the $500 necessary to reinstate his license. For a time he did have a job as a machinist in Marlborough, relying on a fellow employee for a ride to work. When that employee left the job, the Worcester man was also forced to leave because he no longer had a mode of transportation to get there. Under his present circumstances he is unable to save the $500. The man is married and has three children, including a newborn baby.

Rep. Elizabeth Malia (D-Jamaica Plain) has characterized the $500 reinstatement fee as an "insurmountable barrier" for a person just released from prison or a drug treatment facility. "If you can get a job and you can't get to work, basically the door is just slammed on you," said Rep. Malia. Senate Majority Leader Harriet Chandler (D-Worcester) has said the suspension and reinstatement fee bears no correlation to the underlying drug offense.

The existing law has also been criticized as creating a "backdoor" Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) check because it lists a person's drug conviction on his or her driving record. The bill explicitly directs "[u]pon expiration of the term of suspension of driving privileges suspended . . . the registrar shall shield from public access all records of the suspension and the underlying offense, including records of the expiration of the suspension, any hearings or appeals related to the suspension, and the reinstatement following the suspension."

The bill's sponsors maintain that punishment for operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol will still carry the same punishment. That conviction will also still allow a judge or the Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) to suspend the license of a person convicted of a drug crime, if doing so would be appropriate punishment.

If you are facing a motor vehicle crime or have had your license suspended for any reason, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney to schedule a consultation to discuss your options and rights.