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Santa Fe Approves Drivers License Suspension Reform

Kevin Meerschaert
Supporters celebrate as Drivers License Suspension Reform bill is approved by the Santa Fe Governing Body.

The Santa Fe Governing Body has passed a bill to prevent people from getting their driver’s license suspended for failure to pay a fine.

Thebill prohibits the municipal court from notifying the New Mexico Motor Vehicle Division when a driver fails to pay a ticket within the required period of time if that failure will result in a license suspension.

Supporters say if someone can’t pay the fine in time, the suspension will only make it more difficult to collect the fee since the driver won’t be able to get to their job.

Currently, thousands of New Mexicans can’t legally drive simply because they are trapped in a cycle of debt and their access to safe and legal transportation is limited.  Over a recent three-year period, New Mexico suspended over 215,000 residents’ driver’s licenses because the person could not afford to pay their court debt or missed a court appointment.

Councilor Jamie Cassutt says that will just lead to more unemployment when people lose their job due to a lack of transportation.

“We don’t want our fines and fees to be so punitive that it really starts to spin people into debt,” she said. “The concern here is that if someone is unable to pay a fee and we suspend their license and they can no longer go to work,or get their kids to school, or get their kids to child care that we are actually doing a lot more damage to their live for something that was as simple as just not being able to pay a ticket.”    

The new ordinance does not eliminate suspensions and revocations based on dangerous driving (DUI, accrued points, etc.) or relating to overdue child support.  It also will not limit the court’s discretion to impose sanctions in criminal and traffic cases. 

“This will help many hard-working families get back on the road and back to work,” said Councilor Carol Romero-Wirth. “This will boost Santa Fe’s overall economy and improve the quality of life for many Santafeans and those from surrounding communities.”

According to the New Mexico Fees and Justice Center 40-percent of drivers who lose their license also lose their jobs and those who can find jobs take significant pay cuts. 

State Director Monica Ault says it’s encouraging to see elected officials working together to improve the economy by keeping hard-working New Mexicans on the road and on the job.