Lawmakers to address 'debtor's prison' for unpaid traffic tickets

Two state senators want to change the rules that see people go to jail for unpaid tickets.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Two Tampa Bay Area senators plan to introduce legislation that would allow Florida residents to complete community service when they can't afford to pay their traffic tickets.

Sen. Jeff Brandes (R - Pinellas) reacted to a 10News story about unpaid traffic tickets that result in driver license suspensions and eventually jail time for those who don't pay.

"There's still this debtor's prison component to drivers' licenses," he said.

It happened to Rae Bishop from Tampa. She got a red light camera ticket last October but couldn't afford to pay the $262 fine in time. Her license was suspended, then she was caught driving without it.

"They stopped me because of my tail light being out," she said. "Now, I find myself in handcuffs going to jail. I'm thinking 'what the hell is going?'"

She spent one night in jail. She still owes the fine.

Sen. Dana Young (R - Hillsborough) is working with Brandes on the legislation. They want to eliminate the felony classification for those caught driving with a suspended license three times.

"Let the justice system work for these true crimes and let's keep people working for things that are minor in the grand scheme of things," she said. "Some people cannot afford these fees and it perpetuates this cycle of poverty that keeps them from going to work and spirals downward."

Both legislators are considering a 'work only' driver's license with restrictions. They've proposed similar legislation before, but the support wasn't there because Florida counties depend on traffic fine revenue.

"Driver's license suspensions has become a profit center unwillingly for the clerks of court," Brandes said. "Why have we built a system that relies on driver's license suspensions to sustain itself?"

Both legislators are working on alternative ways to fund county clerks of court.

The senators plan to introduce their bill during the 2018 legislative session.

© 2017 WTSP-TV


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