Driving toward legal driving

By Shira Schoenberg | sschoenberg@repub.com
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on March 23, 2016 at 2:30 PM

Beacon Hill

BOSTON – The Massachusetts House passed a bill on Wednesday repealing the automatic license suspension of anyone convicted of a drug crime.

“Over time, we’ve come to realize … a driver’s license, for someone who’s been convicted, paid their price, is important if we also want them to get back into society, get a job, support their family and meet those responsibilities,” said state Rep. William Straus, D-Mattapoisett, chairman of the Joint Committee on Transportation.

The bill, H.4088, passed the House unanimously, by a vote of 156-0, with little discussion.

Both the House and the Senate passed similar bills earlier this session, but differences between the House and Senate versions had to be worked out by a team of negotiators. That conference committee released a final version of the bill last week.

The bill will now go to the Senate and then to Gov. Charlie Baker. Baker has said he supports the concept behind the bill.

Under current law, established in 1989, anyone convicted of a drug-related crime, whether or not it relates to a motor vehicle, has his license suspended for between six months and five years. The offender must pay a fine of at least $500 to have their license reinstated.

The law was put in place during the federal war on drugs, as part of a crackdown on illegal drug use. Advocates for prisoners have since argued that the license suspension is unrelated to the crime, and the suspension makes it harder for offenders to reintegrate into society after they served their sentence. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey has backed the bill, along with several sheriffs and district attorneys.

The bill that passed the House would eliminate the license suspension for most drug crimes – including the possession and sale of drugs. It would keep a five-year license suspension in place for anyone convicted of trafficking in cocaine, fentanyl, heroin or other opiates – although someone convicted of these offenses can apply for a hardship license.

Anyone whose license was already suspended would have it reinstated within 30 days of the bill being signed into law. Records of suspensions would be shielded from public access. The bill would repeal the current $500 license reinstatement fine.

A judge could still suspend someone’s license for a crime related to driving.

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