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Pennsylvania stops suspending driver’s licenses for drug charges

This month, New York and Pennsylvania passed new state resolutions regarding the suspension of driver’s licenses for individuals convicted of drug crimes.

Under this new legislation, neither state will continue to automatically suspend driver’s licenses for citizens convicted of drug crimes. Previous policy required a minimum 6-month suspension of driver’s licenses for any individual convicted of a drug crime regardless of how minor. The new policy will have a huge impact on how Pennsylvanian citizens reenter society after a drug conviction.

Wide-spread impact

Automatic license suspensions made life unnecessarily difficult for those convicted of drug crimes. Without reliable transportation, people were kept from seeking and keeping employment, accessing medical care and addiction treatment services and caring for their families while trying to rebuild their lives.

In 2018, a class action lawsuit was filed on behalf of 149,000 Pennsylvanians, claiming that the state’s policy of automatically suspending licenses was discriminatory against those who have been convicted of drug crimes. Though this lawsuit ended without compensation for the plaintiffs, the lawsuit did help to spur action on a previously stalled bill to stop the practice of license suspension.

Looking forward

The resolution makes New York and Pennsylvania the most recent states to opt out of a 1992 federal law, that stipulated that the U.S. Department of Transportation must withhold 8% of highway funding for any state that did not suspend driver’s license for all drug crimes regardless of any relation to driving. Now, only 8 states in the union have not opted out of the stipulation.

Going forward, citizens of Pennsylvania, convicted of drug crimes that do not involve driving, may be able to keep their driver’s license. This should have a positive impact on hundreds of thousands of citizens in the future. However, this law will not apply retroactively to anyone who has already had their license suspended; and ex-convicts still face many obstacles, including suspension of professional licenses, for life after conviction.

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