driver licenses

Lawsuit challenges suspension of driving licenses for unpaid fines

A group of civil rights advocates has filed a federal class-action lawsuit challenging Tennessee’s suspension of more than 250,000 driver’s licenses affecting people too poor to pay traffic tickets, reports the Nashville Ledger.

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Senate panel votes verticle driver’s license for those under 21

News release from Senate Republican Caucus

NASHVILLE — The Senate Transportation and Safety Committee approved legislation today (Wednesday) requiring all new driver’s licenses issued to persons under the age of 21 in Tennessee be printed in vertical format to help businesses easily identify those who cannot drink alcohol. Senate Bill 384 would give the driver the option to change their license to horizontal upon turning age 21 for the reduced cost of a duplicate license.

Presently, a tiny red bar along the side of the photo on the license indicates a person is under the age of 21.

“What this really addresses is underage drinking,” said Senator Massey. “Excessive drinking is responsible for more than 4,300 deaths nationwide among underage youths each year. Servers have found the small red bar presently on Tennessee licenses is hard to read, especially in high volume hours when a clerk or waiter is very busy. This legislation will make it much quicker and easier to identify a person who is under the age of 21 to curb any unintentional mistakes that might otherwise occur.”

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Haslam frets about alien driver’s license bill

Gov. Bill Haslam is concerned that legislators are sending the wrong message with a bill requiring state officials to stamp the words  “Alien” or “Non-U.S. citizen” on Tennessee driver’s licenses issued to persons without permanent legal status to live in the United States, reports the Times-Free Press.

Tennessee ranked No. 1 last year in job creation from direct foreign job investment. Haslam fears such a law risks sending the wrong signal to companies like Volkswagen and Nissan, which have huge presences in Tennessee and whose executives often visit on federally issued temporary work or travel visas.

“We have a lot of people who are here that we’re glad they’re here,” the Republican governor said, adding he hasn’t yet seen the legislation.

“Volkswagen, Nissan — and I could keep on going. We have more foreign investment from Japan than any other state in the country other than California. We don’t want to create something that would damage that,” he said.

The bill’s sponsors are Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge, and Sen. Ed Jackson, R-Jackson. (Note: It’s HB222.)

The Tennessean’s report notes that, under current law, people who are not Tennessee residents can get only a temporary license that can be distinguished at a glance from a permanent license. It also includes comments from Ragan:

“The 19 hijackers from 9/11 were here on overstayed visas, so this is just intended to be another way of ensuring that we catch that if we can,” he said.

Ragan called his legislation an extra step in terms of safety.

“You never put just one barrier out there to stop an enemy, you put as many as you can,” he said. “This is just an additional check out there. It’s not intended to be anything onerous but it is intended to be a little more obvious.”

…Ragan said he didn’t see any controversy behind the use of the word “alien” or “illegal alien.”

“That means a stranger who is in our country in violation of the law,” he said. “The sensitivities and micro-aggressions and all the other stuff that goes on around here mystify me.”

Lawsuit challenges TN law revoking driver licenses for those who cannot pay court fines

A lawsuit filed in federal court at Nashville seeks to void a 2012 state law that can lead to automatic revocation of driver licenses for those who fail to pay court fines, reports The Tennessean. It contends the law violates people’s rights to due process and equal protection and unfairly deprives people living in poverty of the right to drive only because they cannot pay fees.

It asks U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger in Nashville to declare the law unconstitutional, reinstate licenses that have been revoked under the statute and waive reinstatement fees. It does not seek to waive any of the court fines.

The filing echoes a chief concern of some in the criminal justice system: that accruing court fines creates a cycle of debt that traps already low-income people in the court system.

“It’s just so backwards, a law like this make no sense,” said Claudia Wilner, an attorney with the National Center for Law and Economic Justice, one of the justice reform organizations that filed the lawsuit.

“These are not people who are running out on their debts. It’s people who can’t afford to pay, and it’s not their fault they can’t. To do that without providing them notice this is happening, without allowing them to argue they should be able to keep their licenses … those are important fundamental due process protections that are lacking.”

The issue has spawned similar lawsuits in other states, including Virginia and California, according to Wilner. But she said Tennessee’s law is unique in that it requires no notice to an individual whose license is being revoked.

The lawsuit was filed by the national center; Just City, which is based in Memphis; the law firm Baker Donelson in Memphis; and the justice reform focused Civil Rights Corps. It names Gov. Bill Haslam, Attorney General Herbert Slatery and Department of Safety and Homeland Security Commissioner David Purkey as defendants. A spokesman for Slatery said the office is reviewing the lawsuit.

The lawyers are seeking class-action status and name (James) Thomas and another Nashville man, David Hixon, as lead plaintiffs.

Thomas, 48, is disabled and relies on government benefits as his only income.