NORTH LAWNDALE — Drivers will soon no longer lose their licenses as easily in Illinois.
Gov. JB Pritzker signed a bill — dubbed the License to Work Act — Friday to end the suspension of driver’s licenses for non-moving violations like not paying parking tickets. The bill will go into effect July 1.
Pritzker signed the bill Friday morning at West Side social service agency UCAN, 3605 W Fillmore St., where Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced a similar ordinance in July that ended the city’s practice of suspending licenses for non-moving violations.
City and state legislators have recently been easing up on ticketing practices that, historically, have harmed low-income people and people of color. In the fall, the city created a program to erase some debt from people who have accumulated unpaid tickets for not having a city vehicle sticker.
Pritzker commended Lightfoot and City Clerk Anna Valencia for paving the way for the state to adopt the new legislation.
Driver’s license suspensions for non-moving violations can lead to people who are already struggling financially losing their ability to consistently get to work — and thus falling into even more debt. The governor said the new law acknowledges that many people who have unpaid ticket debt aren’t avoiding compliance with the law by choice, but simply because they can’t afford it.
“If you’re living below or near the poverty line, and you’re looking at a choice between your unpaid parking tickets, or your kids medicine or your family’s next meal, well, that’s no choice at all,” Pritzker said.
The law will also automatically reinstate the licenses of more than 50,000 people who are barred from driving due to ticket debt.
“We’re building an Illinois that works for everyone and reforming broken laws is a key element of that,” Pritzker said.
Secretary of State Jesse White said on July 1 his office “will begin a process” of reinstating the licenses.
Politicians also commended the work of reporters at ProPublica Illinois and WBEZ, who originally shed light on the disproportionate impact of license suspensions on black communities in Chicago.
“If it wasn’t for them, I don’t know if we would be here today,” said State Senator Omar Aquino, who co-sponsored the bill.
Valencia also joined state officials to recognize how eliminating license suspensions for nonmoving violations in Chicago has advanced equity in the city. According to Valencia, the city has relieved $11 million in city sticker debt that residents would’ve been unable to pay back and increased city sticker compliance by 910 percent.
Rodney Shelton, who works for the Chicago Fire Department, said his license was suspended after receiving 77 tickets in 90 days after his car was left on a lot without a city sticker.
“I work for the fire department,” said Shelton, who is from the West Side. “The driver’s license is a condition of employment. … I had 10 days to rectify the issue.”
But to pay off the tickets, he would have to fork over $9,000, which then doubled to $18,000 after not paying quickly enough. Shelton’s only option at the time was to declare bankruptcy to save his job, he said.
According to State Rep. Carol Ammons, who also co-sponsored the bill, having a license suspected often leads into a downward spiral, culminating in a loss of employment and in some cases homelessness.
“These tickets are issued at a much higher rate in black and brown communities, which made this a civil rights issue of our day,” Ammons said, reflecting on the upcoming Martin Luther King Day. “With the rising black outmigration, historical disenfranchisement of black communities, and disproportionately policing and punishment faced by our constituents, we cannot afford inaction. We could not continue to use a state agency as a collection organization for arbitrarily high fines and fees.”
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