BOSTON (SHNS) – Significant public resources are “just being wasted” on punishing motorists who fail to pay fines to the state Registry of Motor Vehicles, civil rights advocates said Monday as they made the latest case for reform.
Representatives from groups including the ACLU of Massachusetts, the Committee for Public Counsel and the Massachusetts Bar Association urged lawmakers to advance legislation (H 3314) that would cease suspending driver’s licenses solely for nonpayment of fines.
The current practice, they said, creates a vicious cycle for lower-income drivers. Someone who is unable to afford a fine might get their license suspended, then be rendered unable to legally drive to work and therefore face even greater financial hardship — or they might continue to drive on a suspended license and fall into more serious legal trouble.
Michael Ryan, a CPCS attorney, told the Transportation Committee that driving without a license and driving with a suspended license are the two most commonly charged crimes in the state’s trial courts, representing more than 15 percent of all charges filed in the District Court system in fiscal year 2023.
The “vast majority” of those suspensions, Ryan said, stemmed from “unpaid fines to the RMV,” not a more serious safety issue.
“These individuals have to have attorneys appointed to them — the commonwealth is spending money. We have to have court hearings — the commonwealth is spending money. We have to have an [assistant district attorney] review the file — the commonwealth is spending money. We have to have a clerk issue the complaint — the commonwealth is spending money,” added Barry Bisson, an attorney who addressed the committee on behalf of the Massachusetts Bar Association. “This is money and resources that [are] just being wasted, unfortunately.”
Advocates pushed for a similar reform last session, but an earlier version of the bill never received a full House or Senate vote.