Governor signs bill to repeal fines and suspensions of driver’s licenses for ex-prisoners; Jobs NOT Jails Coalition recognized
The Jobs Not Jails Coalition Celebrates Passage of Criminal Justice Reform Bill That Helps 15,000+ Ex-Prisoners
The bill was signed into law on March 30, 2016
The passage of this bill will allow ex-prisoners to get jobs, travel to their jobs, and travel to medical appointments. The next step will be to continue to fight to reduce the 300% increase in incarceration rate since the 1980s, and for more jobs programs.
The JOBS NOT JAILS COALITION of community, labor, and religious groups celebrates a 4 year effort of organizing and working with legislators and the governor to get the bill passed titled: An Act Relative to Motor Vehicle License Suspension. The coalition worked hard for the last several years, with countless meetings with legislators, and rallies at the State House including a 700 person hearing in June, to get this passed. We thank the legislators whose commitment made this law possible.
The bill finally repeals a 27-year old relic from the War on Drugs that has backfired by imposing restrictions on ex-prisoners getting jobs and traveling to jobs, which has led to hardships after they did their time and inevitably contributed to recidivism.
Some 15,000+ people are hobbled by this law at any one time as they can wait years to regain their driver’s licenses. This punitive law hindered ex-prisoners from getting jobs that require a driver’s license, made it extremely difficult to travel to jobs inaccessible by public transportation, and obstructed their ability to get themselves and their families to medical appointments, school, grocery shopping, pay child support.
The bill repeals both the $500 fine AND the up to 5 year waiting time to regain driver’s licenses for those convicted for drug possession or possession with intent to distribute. For the 10% convicted for under drug trafficking, which can still be a very small amount of drugs, they also no longer have to pay the fine but still have the waiting period. However, the waiting period starts from time convicted and also allows them to apply to the RMV for a hardship hearing, so we hope most of this group of ex-prisoners will still be able to regain their licenses and go forward in their lives.
We commend legislators: the lead sponsors of this bill, Rep. Liz Malia and Senator Harriette Chandler, the lead sponsors of the omnibus Justice Reinvestment Act which also included this bill, Rep. Mary Keefe and Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz for their leadership, and Rep. Tom Sannicandro and Senator Jamie Eldridge from the Harm Reduction Caucus. Judiciary Chairs, Rep. John Fernandes and Senator William Browsberger gave important support to this bill. Senate President Stan Rosenberg and House Speaker Robert DeLeo gave it active support and moved this to passage and we thank them.
WHAT’S NEXT and NEEDED?
1. Still pending in the House after passing the Senate is Senate 2176 to raise the threshold for what is a felony on theft from $250 to $1500.
2. And in the budget, we are trying to get funding for job training programs for ex-prisoners and court involved youth.
3. All the other big issues on sentencing reform, parole, probation, bail reform, funding reentry adequately, etc. are on hold because of the study underway of the Massachusetts criminal justice system by the Council of State Governments that will lead to legislation for 2017 based on what the process headed by the Governor, Senate President, and House Speaker, Senate President, and the SJC Chief Justice decide.
QUOTES from Elected Officials who helped lead this to passage
House Speaker Robert DeLeo: “We must seize every opportunity possible to help residents reintegrate into society, find fulfilling jobs and support their families,” said House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo (D-Winthrop). “This legislation is an important part of that effort. I’m proud that this law also advances our efforts to help those battling addiction. I thank my colleagues in the Legislature, the Baker Administration and the individuals who bravely shared their stories.”
Senate President Stan Rosenberg: “By the Governor signing this bill today Massachusetts takes an important step towards reforming our criminal justice system. This bill repeals an ineffective and unfair law that made it harder for those who have paid for their mistakes to re-enter society,” said Senate President Stan Rosenberg (D-Amherst). “Approximately 7,000 people had their license suspended last year due to a drug conviction even if that conviction had nothing to do with the operation of a motor vehicle. That’s 7,000 people who cannot drive to their jobs and miss court dates and rehabilitation meetings, making it harder for them to rejoin their families and their communities. Thank you to Governor Baker, Speaker DeLeo, and Senate Majority Leader Harriette Chandler for their leadership on this issue.”
Representative Liz Malia, House lead bill sponsor: “Today, we repealed a 26-year-old state law that automatically suspended the driver’s license of anyone convicted of a drug offense, even if the offense does not involve motor vehicles in any way.Too often have I heard from individuals who are in recovery and unable to get a job or support family members because they cannot obtain a driver’s license. This legislation is a step in the right direction toward correcting one of the many harmful byproducts of the so-called “War on Drugs”. It removes the barrier and burden faced by thousands of Massachusetts residents who have served their time and are working hard to rebuild their lives. I am grateful to my colleagues and the Administration for their continued efforts to change how we view and treat those suffering from addiction.”
Senator Harriette Chandlers, Senate lead bill sponsor: “I have sponsored this bill for years and am thrilled to see how it has progressed and garnered support from members of the Legislature and advocates. This is a step forward in giving folks an opportunity to straighten out their lives and I thank my colleagues, advocates, and supporters who have put in countless time and energy towards seeing this bill through.”
Representative John Fernandes (D-Milford), House Chair of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary: “I was pleased we were able to find a way to remove this unnecessary barrier to employment and education faced primarily by young people who have completed their sentences but have been barred from driving because of minor drug offenses.”
Suffolk County Sheriff Steven Tompkins, a supporter of this legislation: “Ending the practice of license suspension for those convicted of drug offenses unrelated to the operation of a motor vehicle was long overdue. It did us little good to invest in job training, addiction counseling and rehabilitation programming for offenders while unnecessary legal obstacles prevented them from traveling to jobs, obtaining treatment or furthering their education and training. I commend the legislators and everyone who worked diligently to eliminate this debilitating state law.”
Rep. Mary Keefe (D-Worcester), House lead sponsor of the omnibus Justice Reinvestment Act that also included this bill as part of it: “I am so pleased that my colleagues and I voted today to pass this common sense legislation. We must continue to make it easier for formerly incarcerated people to transition back to their communities and to the workforce. I am excited to build on this momentum and work with my colleagues towards creating a more rehabilitative justice system.”
Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz (D-Boston), Senate lead sponsor of the omnibus Justice Reinvestment Act that also included tis bill as part of it: “89% of Bay Staters support major criminal justice reform like repealing mandatory minimums. Passage of this bill is a meaningful down payment on that desire. It means those re-entering society will have one less roadblock on their pathway to rehabilitation and self-sufficiency. Still, faced with a hugely expensive mass incarceration system, it is imperative that both progressives and conservatives do right by taxpayers and keep working on comprehensive criminal justice reform.”
Senator Will Brownsberger (D-Belmont), Senate Chair of the Judiciary Committee: “Loss of license is a crippling penalty that keeps people from working. We want people to get back up on their feet. Getting rid of this misguided policy will be very helpful.”
Rep. Tom Sannicandro, House Chairman of the Harm Reduction Caucus: “Since its formation, the Harm Reduction & Drug Law Reform Caucus has prioritized the repeal of automatic driver’s license suspensions for people convicted of certain drug offenses,” said Representative Tom Sannicandro, Chair of the Harm Reduction & Drug Law Reform Caucus. “It’s exciting to see so many of the policy mistakes passed during the era of the “war on drugs” being called into question and in this case, repealed. As we celebrate this momentous step forward, let it fuel our work in getting rid of outdated policies that criminalize addiction and embracing policies that promote the health and safety of our communities.”
Quotes from Community Leaders Who Worked for Passage of this Bill Cassandra Bensahih, Director of EPOCA in Worcester: “I would like to say this bill will help to restore the driving privileges for the thousands of people who would be affected by this law every year. It will promote job security and dignity to those of us who have already paid for their mistakes. No longer will we worry about these extra burdens or collateral sanctions that come with being in recovery connected to our driving record. Getting to a job or to doctors appointments or just being able to do what normal citizens do, provide your transportation, pick your kids up from school, once you return home. This is one of those historical moment in time, a real life changer.”
Olga Pendraza, a leader in Neighbor to Neighbor in Springfield: “I would be out of work and facing a 2 hour night-time bus commute to my possible job prospect if we hadn’t passed legislation that would remove punitive fees and a 5 years suspension for those who are reintegrating into the community after serving time in prison or on probation. This victory brings us one key step closer to liberation from a system that perpetuates injustice.”
Valenti Baptist, from the Coalition for Social Justice in New Bedford: “It’s going to let people maintain their income without a major derailment. It’s a big deal!! It’s going to help people a whole bunch!”
Delia Vega, former Co-Director of EPOCA, from Worcester: “This means a lot to me. The repeal of this law means hope for the future for so many who have been excluded from society. I personally know people who will benefit and are excited to know that their voices, concerns and efforts have been heard. Thanks to a collective effort, we are victorious.”
Rev. Andre Bennett, a leader in Essex County Community Organization in Lynn: “We are in the season of resurrection, redemption and rejuvenation. As people of faith we stand on the fact that redemption is possible, that people can and do change. This law will undoubtedly give give members of my community the opportunity to start over – that they deserve; it provides them the opportunity to rise again – to be resurrected in the personal lives and in so doing, make out communities safer and stronger.”
Edwin Melendez from St. Vincent de Paul Society in Worcester: “”I am relieved that im going to be able to get my license back and be more stable, life events and opportunities that I had to actually turn down because of not having a drivers license now I would be able to revisit some. It will also give me an opportunity to go on family trip and bond with my family like I have always wanted. I am very very excited that this barrier is being removed for me and many others as well, I will be at the Registry of Motor Vehicles as soon as I can.”
Jack Livramento, Board President of MA Communities Action Network (MCAN) and leader of United Interfaith Action of New Bedford: “I am pleased that Governor Baker and the Legislature have reconsidered criminal sentencing to the extent that a critical and crippling add-on, in this case the loss of automobile driving privileges, is being reined in. When an inmate’s sentence is finished, it needs to be finished. With so many of these needlessly punitive add-ons disrupting family, workplace, and community lives, the Commonwealth must now focus on rehabilitation, recovery treatment when needed, and the concerted reintegration of former inmates.”
The Jobs NOT Jails Coalition of community, religious, and labor organizations. We work to end mass incarceration and increase access to jobs for ex-prisoners and others. We’ve worked to organize people for 4+ years towards getting this bill passed. Some of the groups in the Jobs NOT Jails Coalition include EPOCA/Ex-Prisoners Organizing for Community Advancement, Neighbor to Neighbor, Coalition for Social Justice, SEIU 1199, SEIU 509, Criminal Justice Policy Coalition, Boston Workers Alliance, Pioneer Valley Project, Brockton Interfaith Community, Essex County Community Organization, Youth Jobs Coalition, UU Action, Boston NAACP, NE United for Justice, and Massachusetts Communities Action Network.