BOSTON – This week Senator Pat Jehlen (D-Somerville) and her colleagues in the Massachusetts Legislature approved final passage of An Act relative to motor vehicle license suspension. This bill 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 requires a license reinstatement fee of $500, even if the offense never involved motor vehicles in any way. Thirty-four states, including every other New England state, have already taken action to repeal similar laws.
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effect on license suspension penalties for driving under the influence of alcohol or other drugs, and only removes the outdated state requirement that penalizes every drug offense with a license suspension, even for non-driving offenses.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.
The bill 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.
“A person with a drug conviction encounters many barriers that make it difficult to earn an honest living and turning back to a life of crime can seem like the only option,” said Senator Jehlen. “This important bill removes one of the most harmful collateral consequences of a criminal conviction, but we still have many more steps to take in the criminal justice reform effort to help people become self-sufficient and reintegrate into society.”
The conference committee included compromise language that would maintain automatic suspensions for trafficking heroin, fentanyl, and cocaine. It 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.
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” criminal record 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 recent reforms.
The bill prevents these checks, which harm the chances of employment for individuals convicted of a drug offense, and shields driving records revealing criminal record 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.