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Bill to end driver's license suspension for court debts and fines heads to governor's desk

Democratic Representative Christine Chandler introduced the bill on March 12
Alice Fordham
via NM Legis livestream
Democratic Representative Christine Chandler introduced the bill on March 12

On Saturday, the state House of Representatives passed Senate Bill 47, which would end the suspension of driver's licenses because of court debt and missed court appearances, and for overdue fines or fees owed in traffic or criminal cases.

The new law would direct the MVD to reinstate licenses suspended because of these debts.

According to the advocacy group the Fines and Fees Justice Center, over 300,000 New Mexicans cannot legally drive because of license suspension, and between 2019 and 2021, the state suspended over 183,000 licenses because of court debts and missed court dates.

The advocates say 40% of people who lose their license lose their job.

In January, Monica Ault from the group told the Senate Finance Committee that restricting people's ability to work made them less likely to be able to pay fines.

"This really puts drivers in a very difficult position - you either continue to drive and risk more fines and fees, incarceration, or you stop driving and you lose access to basic necessities, taking care of your family, going to work," she said.

The bill was sponsored by Senator Peter Wirth (D-Santa Fe), Representative Christine Chandler (D-Los Alamos) and Senator Crystal Diamond (R-Elephant Butte). It passed the Senate last month with only one dissenting vote, and passed the House by 50 votes to 12. It now heads to the governor's desk for signature.

Alice Fordham joined the news team in 2022 after a career as an international correspondent, reporting for NPR from the Middle East and later Latin America and Europe. She also worked as a podcast producer for The Economist among other outlets, and tries to meld a love of sound and storytelling with solid reporting on the community. She grew up in the U.K. and has a small jar of Marmite in her kitchen for emergencies.
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