Each legislative session thousands of bills and amendments are introduced in the Pennsylvania Legislature. Only a fraction become law, and an even smaller portion receive wide media coverage.
These bills impact the lives of people living in Pennsylvania every day.
Each week The Sentinel will highlight one bill that has not received widespread attention.
About the bill
On Wednesday, the Washington, D.C., based civil rights organization, Equal Justice Under the Law, filed a lawsuit against Gov. Tom Wolf and PennDOT, aimed at eliminating driver’s license suspensions for people convicted of drug offenses.
More than 149,000 people in Pennsylvania had their driver’s license suspended between 2011 and 2016 for drug offenses, including possession of a small amount of marijuana, according to the group.
“Losing a driver’s license is an extraordinary punishment that negatively affects virtually every aspect of a person’s life,” the group wrote in a news release. “Without the ability to drive, people can’t find and maintain employment, pursue education, keep medical appointments, or care for loved ones.”
Federal law requires states to suspend driver’s licenses in these cases or the states risk losing federal highway funds. However, states can opt out and 38 have already done so, according to Equal Justice Under the Law.
Several lawmakers, including Rep. Rick Saccone, R-Allegheny County, had introduced legislation to do what the lawsuit is asking prior to Wednesday’s filing.
Saccone’s bill is House Bill 163.
“(We) have seen an alarming number of individuals who are at a disadvantage after paying their debt to society by not being able to drive and re-enter the workforce,” Saccone wrote in a co-sponsorship letter.
“(It) is my hope this legislation will be the final step in allowing individuals who have paid their debt to society to fully make amends for their decisions, and become a productive member of the public,” he wrote.
The state must first pass a resolution informing the federal government of its intention to end license suspension. Doing so eliminates the risk of losing federal highway funds.
Rep. Dan Miller, D-Allegheny County, has introduced a resolution to do this.
“This mandate prohibits our state from providing flexibility to courts that assist in recovery and rehabilitation goals while also balancing public safety concerns,” Miller wrote in a co-sponsorship letter. “Many of our drug-related suspensions do not even involve the operation of a vehicle, and clearly each individual found in possession of a narcotic has different treatment needs and individual goals that, if met, can reduce recidivism and improve lives.”
House Resolution 76 was sent to the House Transportation Committee on Feb. 10, 2017, and has not been brought up for a vote.
Saccone’s bill, Miller’s resolution and two other similar bills were the subjects of a joint House Transportation and Judiciary Committee hearing in October.