BOISE – A Lewiston lawmaker plans to introduce legislation this session that could help people all across Idaho keep their driver’s licenses, even when they can’t afford to pay the fine for misdemeanor traffic violations.
Sen. Dan Johnson, R-Lewiston, said this is an issue for lower-income people all across the nation – they get hit with a fine, can’t pay it, and their license is suspended. They still need to get to work, so they keep driving. If they’re pulled over again for expired tags or other violations, they get hit with more fines, plus interest, and their debts keep mounting.
“They get caught in a treadmill,” Johnson said. “We have a lot of folks trapped by this.”
About 5 percent of Idaho’s 1.1 million driver’s licenses are suspended at any given time, he said, and the primary reason is for failure to pay fines.
Reducing certain misdemeanor violations to infractions would take pressure off the court system and public defenders, Johnson said. The bill also could include alternative forms of restitution, such as community service, so people are still held accountable.
He’s working on the issue with House Reps. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, Greg Chaney, R-Caldwell, and Ryan Kerby, R-New Plymouth.
Johnson also is working on two small “clean-up” bills brought to him by local fire districts, as well as a resolution honoring Lewis-Clark State College for its 125th anniversary this year.
He’s been “poking around” on several other measures, but isn’t sure they’ll come to fruition this session. As chairman of the Senate Local Government and Taxation Committee, he’ll also be neck deep in the tax conformity and tax policy debates.
Sen. Carl Crabtree, R-Grangeville, is in a similar situation. As a member of the joint budget committee and Senate Education Committee, he’ll be carrying bills that go through those panels, rather than his own bills.
“We have so many bills and rules anyway, nobody knows what they all are,” he said.
Crabtree is working on one bill to change the Idaho “Sheriff’s Department” license plate to “Sheriff’s Office.” It’s a minor issue, he said, but important to some of his constituents. The point is that county sheriffs are independent elected officials, rather than hired department heads.
Beyond that, Crabtree is looking forward to what’s likely to be a session-long debate over tax relief.
“The good news is I think we can have tax relief at a significant level and still afford to fund our education and transportation needs,” he said. “We’ve made some good decisions (in the past), and our economy is booming.”