(Boise) Representative Greg Chaney (R-Caldwell) introduced a bill today in the House Judiciary, Rules, and Administration committee aimed at alleviating budget pressures for counties faced with jail crowding and struggles providing public defense. The bill, which the committee agreed to move forward, would reduce certain misdemeanor driving offenses to infractions, eliminate mandatory jail time for driving on a suspended license, and allow low-income citizens a better opportunity to catch up on fines without being burdened by additional criminal charges due to non-payment.
Chaney worked in conjunction with Sen. Dan Johnson (R-Lewiston), Rep. Lynn Luker (R-Boise), and Rep. Ryan Kerby (R-New Plymouth) in drafting the legislation.
“This will take 7,000 misdemeanor cases out of the court system annually,” Chaney told the committee, “while saving counties state-wide over $9 million per year in the cost of incarceration, prosecution, and public defense.”
The bill also seeks to avoid what Chaney referred to as a “vicious cycle” that can arise when low income persons fall behind on paying court fees. Currently, once someone falls behind on their fines their driving privileges are suspended.
“They can choose to either ignore the suspension and keep working or honor the suspension, miss work, and fall further behind,” Chaney said.
If someone is caught driving while suspended, an additional misdemeanor is filed against them, resulting in even more fines being imposed. This bill is aimed at breaking that cycle.
Key provisions of the bill:
- Driving on an expired license, which is currently a misdemeanor, would be an infraction on the first and second offense.
- Driving on a license that had been suspended due to non-payment of fines or status offenses like minor in possession of alcohol would be an infraction.
- Driving on a license that had been suspended for other reasons, like DUI or reckless driving, would remain a misdemeanor.
- Removes the mandatory minimum jail sentences for misdemeanor violations of driving on a suspended license (currently 5 days for a first offense and 20 days for a second offense).
- Removes approximately 7,000 misdemeanor cases per year from the criminal justice system.
- Reduces incarceration, prosecution, and public defense expenses by over $9,000,000 per year.
- Allows defendants to have their driving privileges when the only reason for suspension is an inability to pay—allowing them to continue working and making progress in meeting their obligations.
The next step for the legislation would be a full hearing before the committee.