State Representative David K. Muradian, Jr. (R-Grafton), joined his colleagues yesterday in unanimous support of repealing a 1989 law requiring individuals to forfeit their driver’s license for five years for certain drug-related offenses. The 1989 law is viewed by many as an obstruction to individuals convicted of minor drug crimes who try to secure employment or treatment following their release from prison.
The mandatory driver’s license suspension requirement for drug-related offenses was passed in 1989 under the Dukakis Administration. Federal law mandates that every state pass a law requiring mandatory six-month license suspensions for any person convicted of a drug-related offense, including misdemeanor marijuana possession, or they will face a 10% reduction in federal highway funding for non-compliance.
Despite the federal law, states are allowed to approve a no-cost opt-out resolution without losing federal highway funding. To date, a total of 34 states have passed opt-out resolutions, most recently Vermont, Wisconsin, South Carolina and Utah. Reports indicate that a majority of the remaining 16 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have begun to reduce non-driving drug related offense suspension laws.
Under current law, the Registrar of Motor Vehicles is required to suspend the license or right to drive of any person convicted of a violation under the Controlled Substances Act, without a hearing, for a period of no more than five years. The bill that passed the House today removes this requirement, allowing individuals to retain or secure a driver’s license if the crime for which they were convicted did not involve the use of a motor vehicle.
The bill also requires the Registrar to reinstate, issue, or renew the license or right to operate of a person convicted of a violation under the Controlled Substances Act, so long as said person is otherwise eligible, and to waive the fee for reinstatement, which is currently $500. Upon reinstatement, issuance or renewal, the Registrar would be required to shield the underlying offense, as well as records of the suspension expiration, hearings, appeals, and records regarding reinstatement, issuance or renewal from an individual’s driving record.
The repeal of the 1989 law will not apply to those convicted of more serious drug offenses, however. An amendment to the bill, filed by House Republican leadership, allows the Registrar of Motor Vehicles to suspend the license or right to operate a motor vehicle for up to five years, without a hearing, for individuals who have been convicted of a drug trafficking offense involving narcotics.
“The Legislature and the law enforcement community have been learning, especially recently through the opioid crisis, that these types of restrictions are not effective in deterring minor drug offenses and can increase recidivism. There are so many people in the Commonwealth that are affected by minor drug convictions who end up losing their ability to recover from them,” stated Representative Muradian. “Often these people are very limited in the type of work that they can get and without the ability to drive to work, this law is an obstacle in the path of those honestly trying to rebuild their lives.”
The Massachusetts Sheriffs Association, the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association, and the Attorney General support the repeal of the mandatory license suspension law.
“Clearly, the support of the law enforcement community, along with the continued restrictions on those convicted of drug trafficking offenses, shows this is not a soft on crime bill,” stated Representative Muradian. “Rather, this is an attempt to assist those individuals who have served their time and are trying to turn their lives around by allowing them to have the ability to drive to a job or to a drug rehabilitation facility for treatment.”
The House bill now heads to the Senate, which passed a similar bill on a unanimous roll call vote of 38-0 on September 24, 2015.