Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam made a stop in Leesburg in July during his tour to highlight his efforts at increasing driver’s license reinstatements.
Speaking to a small crowd at the Douglass Community Center, Northam (D) said a little over 35,000 licenses have been renewed since July 1, when a new policy went into effect allowing people to have their license reinstated if it was revoked strictly because of a failure to pay court fines or fees.
“If you’re asking people to pay their fines and fees, how can they pay them if they can’t get to work—it doesn’t make sense,” Northam said. “Individuals in Virginia had to make a decision: Do I stay home and not go to work, or do I get a car and drive on a suspended license, and of course if you do that that leads to more fines and sometimes to jail time. So, we really thought this was unfair to Virginia.”
The policy change, which went into effect July 1, is the result of provisions included in the governor’s budget adopted by the General Assembly. It prohibits the courts from suspending driving privileges for the single reason of court fees or fines and waives associated reinstatement fees, according to the governor's office.
On July 2, the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles began informing people whose driving privileges were suspended for failure to pay court fines and costs about reinstating their driver’s licenses.
Northam proposed the amendment at the request of Virginia Sen. Bill Stanley (R-20th), who sponsored the bill. Two members of the Loudoun County delegation, Sen. Jill Vogel (R-27th) and Del. Dave LaRock (R-33rd), were patrons of their chambers' respective bills.
“I've worked hard on this to make it easier for folks to get and keep a job, allowing them to provide for their families and pay off fines and fees,” LaRock tweeted Tuesday.
The new policy only affects a person’s ability to get his or her driver’s license, according to the governor's office, and it does not eliminate the requirement to pay the underlying court costs and fines.
Virginians whose driving privileges are suspended or revoked for other reasons, in addition to failure to pay court fines and costs, will need to meet any other court or DMV requirements – including payment of reinstatement fees – to regain their driving privileges.
“Ending this policy is long overdue—economic status should not be a factor in a person’s ability to work and provide for their families, nor should it force people to become further entangled in our criminal justice system,” Northam said earlier this month. “I am proud of this bipartisan, commonsense policy that will help hundreds of thousands of Virginians get their driver’s licenses back, get back to work, and get on with their lives.”
A handful of protesters carried signs around the Douglass Community Center after a months-long investigation failed to determine whether Northam was pictured in a 1984 yearbook photo that showed a man wearing blackface and another in a Ku Klux Klan outfit. Northam at first apologized for being in the photo but then said he doesn't believe either person is him. The scandal led prominent lawmakers, including many Democrats, to call for Northam's resignation, but he has elected to stay in office.
Northam spoke with black leaders in Loudoun County earlier in the day.