Last night, VOICE helped move Virginia to become a more fair and just Commonwealth for all people.
With overwhelming bipartisan support, the Virginia legislature voted to end Virginia's horrific system of suspending driver's licenses for unpaid court fees and fines, one of VOICE’s top issue priorities this year. Currently, 627,000 Virginians—nearly 1 in 10 adults in the state—have their driver's licenses suspended solely for unpaid court debt. Not DUI's, not reckless driving offenses, only court debt.
During VOICE's recent listening campaign with Returning Citizens, we heard countless stories of people who are unable to get to work, pick up their kids from school, or go visit a loved one in the hospital simply because they were being taxed for being poor. At one Returning Citizen's organization based in Richmond that we allied with, 400 of the 407 Returning Citizens they served in 2018 had their driver's license suspended for unpaid court debt.
It is hard to overestimate the crippling social and economic effect this has on people's lives in Virginia from one hateful, draconian law. Not only has it impacted the ability of hundreds of thousands to provide for their families, it has also denied the state millions and millions in tax revenue.
In October of last year, VOICE convened 1,400 people to ask Gov. Ralph Northam to help end this practice. Specifically, VOICE asked Gov. Northam to allocate money in his budget to replace revenue lost from reinstatement fees, roughly $9 million per year, which in the past has been a significant roadblock to passage of the legislation. In December, Gov. Northam followed through on his commitment to VOICE and allocated the needed funding in his initial budget.
Before and during the recent General Assembly session, VOICE sent teams of leaders from local congregations to discuss this issue with dozens of key lawmakers including Speaker Cox. VOICE also helped to organize key Virginia allies such as business and denominational leaders, who have helped organize support for the bill in key Virginia districts.
During last night’s crucial Senate vote, one of the VOICE Returning Citizen leaders, Marcel Quinn, who travels nearly 4 hours every day on public transportation to bring his son back and forth from Virginia to Maryland to attend school because his license is suspended, was recognized from the floor of the Senate chamber by Sen. Bill Stanley (R-D20), who championed the legislation and helped bulldog it through both chambers.
VOICE recognizes the crucial work of our allies in this work, who came from across the political spectrum. In particular, we are grateful of the work of Legal Aid Justice Center, Americans for Prosperity, Virginia, Prison Fellowship, and Virginia Poverty Law Center. Without them victory also would not have been possible.
We also recognize the critical leadership of Gov. Northam, who championed this legislation from the beginning, House Speaker Cox who opened the way for his Caucus to act on this issue, and the leadership from Sen. Stanley, who fought so hard to get the amendment past the finish line.
Please know that because this was passed as a budget amendment, it only has the force of law for one year. Though we have now helped to change the status quo on this issue, the next step will be to make it permanent law in 2020. Let’s use the momentum from last night’s victory to build bigger power and change Virginia.
Check out VOICE leaders Marcel Quinn and Rev. Dr. Savage being interviewed tonight at 6:30PM on NBC.