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San Francisco Ends “Poverty Penalty” - 
Clears All Driver's License Suspensions for People Who Missed Traffic Court Dates

Ron was unemployed and struggling to make ends meet with a $400 monthly public benefit stipend through the San Francisco Human Services Agency. He applied for a job at local carwash, which would have quadrupled his monthly income. Ron was turned down for the job because he didn’t have a valid driver’s license, which had been suspended because he missed his traffic court date at the San Francisco Superior Court. “He was discouraged,” said Ken Theisen, a staff advocate at Bay Area Legal Aid who was trying to help Ron. “He thought if he couldn’t get a job at a carwash, he couldn’t get a job anywhere.”
A reform announced this week eliminated this barrier to employment for Ron and thousands of other San Franciscans. Mayor London Breed and Treasurer José Cisneros announced that the City collaborated with the San Francisco Superior Court to clear up to 88,000 outstanding holds placed on people’s driver’s licenses as a result of missing their traffic court date. The announcement was covered by the San Francisco Chronicle.
“Suspending a driver’s license is a draconian sanction that should only be imposed because of dangerous driving. Missing a court date has nothing to do with dangerous driving and everything to do with poverty," said Lisa Foster, Co-Director of The Fines and Fees Justice Center in Washington, D.C. “We applaud San Francisco for ending this harmful practice.”
“For many people, losing their driver’s license means not being able to pick up their kids, go to work, pay off their bills, and get back on their feet,” said San Francisco Mayor London Breed. “It is an unnecessarily punitive measure that is ultimately counterproductive for both the City and the individual. We will continue to lead on this issue because it is a matter of equity in how we treat all San Franciscans, and ensuring that we are not harming our low-income residents over small violations.”
The San Francisco Superior Court recently adopted ability to pay guidelines for traffic court that provide discounts on citations to people with lower incomes. More information about these discounts for low-income residents is available on their website. If your driver's license was suspended for failing to appear in the San Francisco Traffic Court, you can click here to find out what steps you can take.
The Financial Justice Project would like to thank Bay Area Legal Aid, Community Housing Partnership, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, Legal Services for Children, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, all the organizations in the Debt Free SF Coalition, Mayor London Breed and the San Francisco Superior Court for their collaboration to advance this reform and remove this barrier.

Yours in Financial Justice,

Anne & Christa
Copyright © 2019 Financial Justice Project, All rights reserved.

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