East Boston Representative Adrian Madaro joined his colleagues in the House to approve final passage of a new bill that would give back revoked licenses to drug offenders.
An Act relative to motor vehicle license suspension repeals the current law that subjects individuals convicted of a non-violent drug offense to an automatic license suspension for up to five years and a license reinstatement fee of $500, even if the offense does not involve motor vehicles in any way. Thirty-four states, including every other New England state, have already taken action to repeal similar laws.
“This outdated and ineffective law made it difficult for people to gain meaningful employment and get their lives back on track,” said Madaro. “I am pleased with the steps the House has taken to advance the ever-growing reform on criminal justice legislation.”
The bill would have no effect on license suspension penalties for driving under the influence of alcohol or other drugs, and only removes the outdated state requirement that penalizes every drug offense with a license suspension, even for non-driving offenses. It will also allow anyone previously subject to this provision to have their license reinstated without a fee.
“We must seize every opportunity possible to help residents reintegrate into society, find fulfilling jobs and support their families,” said House Speaker Robert DeLeo (D-Winthrop). “Repealing this law does just that and represents an immediate step we’re taking as we prepare for comprehensive criminal justice reform legislation. I’m proud that it also advances our efforts to help those battling addiction. I thank Chairs Malia, Straus and Dempsey for their diligence and insight.”
In recognition of the ongoing opioid crisis and the danger of highly addictive stimulants, members of the conference committee included compromise language that would maintain automatic suspensions for trafficking heroin, fentanyl, and cocaine.
The compromise maintains a pathway for reformed convicts to receive temporary licenses for education or employment purposes, while holding the Registry of Motor Vehicles accountable for any denials. This targeted approach is expected to reduce an overwhelming majority of licenses suspended by the Commonwealth under this law.
The compromise also directs the Registry of Motor Vehicles to report back to the legislature on the total number of licenses that have been suspended under the new trafficking provisions and the total number of temporary licenses issued for education or employment purposes.
“I am pleased that we were able to craft legislation that takes a balanced approach to the problem of recidivism among routine drug offenders,” said Representative Bill Straus, House chair of the Joint Transportation Committee (D-Mattapoisett), and a co-chair of the conference committee that issued the final report. “This bill has received widespread support from the very beginning. All of the stakeholders that have weighed in, including law enforcement, have made clear that it is time to move on from the policy of automatic license suspension for all drug offenses.”
Driving records currently include non-driving license suspensions. Prospective employers and others can purchase warrants from the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) for under $10. This can be used as a “back door CORI” check, where employers purchase RMV records for the purpose of obtaining information about criminal records, even if they would normally be sealed, expunged, or shielded by CORI reform.
“This piece of legislation is a great step forward in recognizing the need to remove an ineffective law and barrier for people that have paid for their mistakes and are working to become productive and contributing members of our society,” said Senator Thomas M. McGee (D-Lynn), Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Transportation. “I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Senator Chandler for her unwavering advocacy and leadership on this issue, and many others.”
The bill prevents these checks, which harm the chances of employment for individuals convicted of a drug offense, and shields driving records revealing CORI information from public view. However, information would still be available to RMV employees and others with a legitimate need for access.
The bill now goes to the Governor for his signature.