Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) said Monday that residents whose driver’s licenses were suspended for unpaid court debt will have their privileges restored July 1.
The announcement comes after the governor announced in March that he would do so.
License suspensions for unpaid debts were criticized by advocates for the poor after a 2015 federal investigation, focused on Ferguson, Mo., showed that authorities used fines to raise revenue for state and local governments. A Washington Post analysis last year found that more than 7 million people nationwide may have lost their licenses because of court debt.
In a statement, Northam said all Virginians whose licenses were suspended solely because of court debt would have their privileges restored. The state will also write to more than 500,000 residents advising them of “specific requirements” for getting their licenses back.
“I appreciate the hard work taking place at the DMV now to ensure that starting July 1, hundreds of thousands of impacted Virginians will be able to move their lives forward,” the governor said.
In 2016, the Legal Aid Justice Center, which represents low-income Virginians, filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia claiming that more than 940,000 people in the state had their licenses suspended for nonpayment of fees and fines.
Angela Ciolfi, litigation director for the Legal Aid Justice Center, said driver’s licenses would be restored only through July 1, 2020, unless a permanent injunction is issued in federal court or the General Assembly passes a full repeal bill.
“We cannot overstate the significance of this temporary relief to hundreds of thousands of families all across Virginia whom we hope will never again have to choose between keeping their jobs and risking jail time for driving illegally,” she said in a statement. “We are mystified by the fact that the Commonwealth continues to defend in court a law that a federal judge has declared likely to be unconstitutional and the General Assembly has rejected as bad policy. Justice demands that the Commonwealth make this relief permanent.”
Virginians with court debt will still have to pay outstanding debts, according to the governor’s statement.
Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran said in a statement that it “is long overdue that Virginia end its inequitable practice of suspending driving privileges for failure to pay court fines and costs.”