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Re-Imagining Drivers License Suspension and Monetary Sanctions

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Ahead of the 2021 Re-Imagining Justice Conference, we want to take a look back at an issue the Minnesota Justice Research Center provided background research for during the 2021 legislative session. Below is an update on Fines and Fees from Anna Odegaard the Director of the Minnesota Asset Building Coalition, who led a coalition effort to transform how the State of Minnesota enforces driver’s license suspensions and fees attached to traffic and criminal violations. This policy victory will have a real impact on Minnesotans lives and will go into effect in 2022.

With conversations running hot about police violence, racial profiling, and the criminalization of poverty, Minnesota legislators are considering a broad range of criminal justice reform proposals for 2022. Fortunately, several important reforms passed during the 2021 session, freeing up advocates of reform to push for more and reminding our allies that we can make change when we work together and refuse to give up.

Effective January 1, 2022, the State of Minnesota will no longer suspend your driver’s license for failing to pay or show up in court for a traffic ticket. The state will also stop tacking on an extra suspension period when you pay a ticket for driving after suspension. This is a big deal for the approximately 144,000 Minnesotans each year who have their license suspended for one of those reasons, especially since many don’t know their license is suspended until they’re pulled over and ticketed for driving after suspension – a $200 fine plus fees and surcharges. Unpaid tickets will still be subject to collections, but people will be able to continue to drive legally, so they can keep their job and take care of their family, while they pay off the debt.

Another win for Minnesotans is a new law that gives judges discretion to reduce or waive the $75 State Surcharge that gets added to every traffic and criminal violation. This surcharge pushes even minor traffic tickets like equipment violations up over $100, which is a hardship for a lot of families struggling to meet basic needs. A ticket for rolling through a stop sign is only $50 before the state surcharge bumps it up to $125. Beginning July 1, 2022, a judge may waive that surcharge in cases of financial hardship, which is a step in the right direction. Next we need to require judges to assess a person’s ability to pay before imposing any sentence that includes fines, fees or surcharges – and ensure that our courts never impose fines and fees beyond a person’s ability to pay.

A broad group of allied organizations, including the Minnesota Justice Research Center, collaborated over several years to get these reforms enacted. With the success of these two bills, we’re more motivated than ever to keep working for a more equitable Justice system.

Anna Odegaard is the Director of the Minnesota Asset Building Coalition, a statewide coalition of 140 nonprofit organizations whose mission is to create asset-building opportunities for low-income Minnesotans, reduce systemic barriers to economic mobility and advance racial equity. Learn more about this issue by viewing our conversation with Anna, Dr. Alexis Harris, Dr. Chris Uggen and Kevin Reese HERE. For more information on MABC’s policy results in 2021 click HERE and to see media coverage of this issue click HERE.

Thank you to everyone who supported this important work. We hope to see you at our annual conference where we will discuss issues that we hope will lead to more legislative and transformative victories like this. REGISTER HERE.


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