Alabama House committee OKs bill limiting court-related suspensions of drivers’ licenses

Amendents have changed the bill to make it less forgiving than before

By: - May 3, 2023 11:56 am
The round dome of the Alabama State Capitol features a clock with a black face and white hands and numbers. The dome is topped with the flags of the United States and Alabama.

The dome of the Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery, Alabama, as seen on January 24, 2023. (Brian Lyman/Alabama Reflector)

A bill that would prevent courts from suspending the licenses of people who miss court appearances or fail to pay court costs cleared a House committee Wednesday.

SB 154, sponsored by Sen. Will Barfoot, R-Pike Road, passed the House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee on a 10-3 vote with two members absent. The bill moves to the House of Representatives.

“I feel great, partially relieved,” said Frederick Spight, policy director for Alabama Appleseed, who had been advocating for the bill since the start of the legislature.

Under current law, a court can suspend a person’s driver’s license after missing an initial court date or failing to show up to court for a review post adjudication. A person’s license may also be revoked if a person misses a single fine or fee payment.

The bill was amended in committee, making it less forgiving than the one that introduced in the Senate in March. The prior version allowed a person to keep their driver’s license after two missed court appearances or failing six payment dates. That bill passed the Senate 32-0 on April 25.

This amended version allows someone to miss a single court appearance or three payments for their fines and fees. A person would have the ability to retrieve their license once it has been revoked for a fee.

A version of the bill passed the Senate in 2022 but died on the House floor on the final day of the session.

Advocates who have been working to pass this legislation for the past two years argue that suspending drivers’ licenses places a burden on many low-income populations who need access to transportation to meet basic needs, leaving many to rely on public transportation that is more difficult to access.

Rep. Phillip Pettus, R-Killen, voted against the bill, saying a judge in his district opposed it.

“My judge is totally against this bill because it just takes their discretion away,” Pettus said. “Right now, they have the discretion, and my judge said that every case is different, and if you do it this way, you are making them do everybody the same.”

Others were comfortable moving forward.

“I have spoken with several representatives who have lots of concerns because of judges in their area, but I also heard from the Association of Judges, and they have taken a neutral position on the bill,” said Rep. Allen Treadaway, R-Morris, who chairs the committee.

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Ralph Chapoco
Ralph Chapoco

Ralph Chapoco covers state politics as a senior reporter for States Newsroom. His main responsibility is the criminal justice system in Alabama.