Stay ahead of the curve as a political insider with deep policy analysis, daily briefings and policy-shaping tools.Request a Demo
New Georgia Law Could Help 100,000 Drivers Avoid License Suspensions
- More than one hundred thousand licenses are suspended each year in Georgia for missing traffic court.
- Many of the roughly fifty-thousand people arrested annually in Georgia for driving on suspended licenses lose their jobs as a result.
- A new state law aims to curb chances in Georgia for drivers to lose their license for missed fine payments.
There’s less chance Georgians, and some visitors, may lose their driver’s licenses for failing to pay tickets for minor traffic infractions under a new law that gives judges more leeway in suspending licenses.
Around 105,000 licenses are suspended each year in Georgia, according to the nonprofit Georgia Justice Project. Because many drivers have the option to simply pay a ticket instead of appear in court, those who cannot pay are disproportionately affected by this law.
Previously, state law automatically suspended a driver's license for "failure to appear" in court, and drivers could only get their license back after fully paying their fine. New law gives judges the power to stop a suspension from moving forward and reinstate a license at any time — even before payment is made.
This chart shows the number of speeding tickets issued in Georgia in recent years and how much revenue the state has collected from fines. (Credit: Beau Evans for State Affairs)
Coleen Shane, a 47-year-old network security engineer from San Diego, was driving through Georgia to visit her sister in September 2020 when she was pulled over for speeding. Months later, she was notified her California license had been suspended for “failure to appear” in Georgia – even though she says she paid a $200 fine online.
“There were some kind of additional fees that caused the suspension,” Shane said. “I got my license reinstated, but it could have totally affected my job since I travel a lot.”
Legislation signed into law by Gov. Brian Kemp earlier this month would curb chances for drivers like Shane to lose their license for missed fine payments. Sponsored by state Sen. Emanuel Jones (D-Decatur), the bill gives local judges the ability to halt license suspensions for minor traffic violations, rather than a suspension automatically taking effect.
“A driver’s license means a job,” said state Rep. Tyler Smith (R-Bremen), who carried Jones’ bill in the Georgia House of Representatives. “A lot of times [drivers] have to choose between going to court or losing a job. And sometimes, it’s just confusing.”
Why It Matters
Roughly half of Georgia drivers who lose their licenses also end up losing jobs because of not being able to drive to work or the stigma of having a court record, according to the Georgia Justice Project.
Even then, most drivers in Georgia with suspended licenses still hop in their cars to commute. Around 50,000 people are arrested annually in Georgia for driving on suspended licenses, according to the nonprofit.
Court-reform advocates stress not all those arrested for traffic violations are dangerous motorists. Take the case of 25-year-old Jasmin Sosa.
In 2015, Sosa received a nearly $300 ticket for speeding in North Georgia – a fine she struggled to pay on a $100 weekly salary. Two years later, she was pulled over for turning left at a right-only stop sign, arrested and jailed in DeKalb County for several hours until her mother posted bail. She had no idea her license was suspended from the 2015 speeding ticket.
“I’ve carried a lot of shame,” Sosa said. “My forgetfulness gets me in trouble.”
Sosa said she feels some cautious optimism with the new law, but her treatment by police and the court convinced her she was punished more for being forgetful than her original infraction. “I’d love to put this behind me,” she said, but her court record has often forced her to explain her arrest to roommates, employers and romantic partners.
“The system set me up for failure in a lot of ways,” Sosa said.
License suspensions most hurt Georgians who are already struggling, said Doug Ammar, the Georgia Justice Project’s executive director. Studies show that having a license can help workers on federal public aid hold down a job even more than a high-school diploma can.
“Having a driver's license is the most correlative thing to getting a job and keeping a job than any other data point in the country,” Ammar said. “It's almost essential if you want people to work and keep working.”
Doug Ammar is the executive director of the Georgia Justice Project. (Credit: Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon for State Affairs)
The new law won’t let every driver in Georgia off the hook for license suspensions. Serious violations – such as driving under the influence, drag racing or vehicular homicide – will still trigger an automatic suspension.
Georgia’s Department of Driver Services (DDS) also suspends licenses upon a judge’s orders when a parent required to pay child support fails to do so. Those suspensions would remain unchanged by the new law.
Judges could also carry out license suspensions if they find a driver to be a danger on the road, said Tony West, deputy state director of the nonprofit Americans for Prosperity. That leeway strikes a balance between penalizing reckless drivers and giving safe drivers a pass, he said.
"The point of the bill is to allow a judge to make that call,” West said. “You don't want the criminal justice system penalizing people and making it harder for them to be productive citizens if they're not a threat to public safety."
It’s tough to forecast how often local judges will choose to halt license suspensions rather than let them take effect under the new law, said Bruce Shaw, a spokesman for the state Administrative Office of the Courts, which monitors local and state courts.
Georgia traffic courts already have communications systems for quickly conveying judges’ orders on license suspensions to the state DDS, Shaw said. DDS only yanks license privileges if a judge’s order requires a suspension, said Susan Sports, a DDS spokeswoman.
Ammar, of the Georgia Justice Project, said feedback he’s heard from many local judges and prosecutors who support the new law gives him confidence most courts will avoid automatic license suspensions for missed fine payments.
“Many of them didn't like [automatic suspensions],” Ammar said, referring to judges and prosecutors he’s spoken to about the new law. “They didn't like what it did to people, but they didn’t have another option.”
Going forward, court-reform groups like the Georgia Justice Project aim to push future legislation that would require fine notices to be sent via email or text messages. They also plan to pursue law changes that allow low-income traffic violators to do community service instead of paying steep fines, Ammar said.
“Poor folks often don't have the money [to pay fines],” Ammar said. “So they're left with this conundrum [that] leads to them not going back to court, and now the problems are all going downhill.”
Join the Conversation
For more info on what to do if your license is suspended for missing traffic court here.
Correction: This story has been updated to clarify that people get an FTA for not appearing in court, not for just not paying. The links to Georgia Justice Project have been updated.
A study committee of Georgia senators took a decisive step Tuesday toward ending a longstanding and contentious law that regulates how and where new medical facilities are located in the state.
The committee’s decision centers on the 44-year-old Certificate of Need law. It was created to control health care costs and cut down on duplication of services and unnecessary expansions. It determines when, where and if hospitals need to be built. Opponents have said the law prevents competition and enables big hospitals to have a monopoly, often shutting out small and private medical outlets.
On Tuesday, the Senate Study Committee on Certificate of Need Reform effectively said the law needs to be repealed. The committee approved, in a 6-2 vote, nine recommendations.
“Based upon the testimony, research presented, and information received, the Study Committee on Certificate of Need Reform has found that the problem Georgia’s CON law was intended to combat no longer exists,” the report said.
However, the head of the Georgia Alliance of Community Hospitals said Tuesday that repealing the law would be a bad idea.
“It would have a devastating financial impact on hospitals and the quality and access to health care,” Monty Veazey, the alliance’s chief executive, told State Affairs.
Veazey said he has not seen the recommendations yet but his organization has sent its own set of recommendations to the senate and house study committees.
“We believe that the certificate of need really does need some modernization and we look forward to working with the committee to work through those recommendations and see if we can reach a compromise position during the upcoming legislative session,” Veazey said. “We still want to see what the House committee recommends before moving forward.”
Here’s what the senate study committee recommends, according to a draft:
- Repeal CON requirements for obstetrics services, neonatal intensive care, birth centers and all services related to maternal and neonatal care across Georgia.
- End requirements for hospital-based CON on Jan. 1, 2025.
- Reform CON laws to eliminate CON review for new and expanded inpatient psychiatric services and beds that serve Medicaid patients and the uninsured.
- Repeal all cost expenditure triggers for CON.
- All medical and surgery specialties should be considered a single specialty, including cardiology and general surgery.
- Multi-specialty centers should be allowed, particularly in rural areas.
- Remove CON for hospital bed expansion.
- Revise freestanding emergency department requirements such that they must be within 35 miles of an affiliated hospital.
- Remove CON for research centers.
The committee will present its recommendations to the Georgia General Assembly when it reconvenes in January.
And subscribe to State Affairs so you do not miss an update.
ATLANTA — The first step in the 2023 electoral redistricting process occurred Monday when Sen. Shelly Echols, R-Gainesville, chair of the Senate Reapportionment and Redistricting Committee, released a draft proposal of new Senate district maps.
Last month, U.S. District Judge Steve Jones ordered Georgia to redraw its state House, Senate and congressional district maps, adopted in 2021 by a majority-Republican-led Legislature, after finding they violated the Votings Rights Act by diluting the power of Black voters. The Georgia General Assembly is charged with submitting new maps to comply with Jones’ order by Dec. 8, and will be meeting in an eight-day special legislative session to do so, starting on Wednesday.
The proposed Senate maps would create two Black-majority voting districts while eliminating two white majority districts in metro Atlanta now represented by Democrats. The districts of state Sen. Elena Parent, chair of the Senate Democratic caucus, and Democratic Sen. Jason Esteves, a freshman, would become majority-Black if the redrawn maps make it through the redistricting process, a change that could invite considerably more primary challenges.
The proposed maps do not significantly alter the district lines for Sen. Valencia Seay, D-Riverdale, and Sen. Marty Harbin, R-Tyrone, whose districts Jones ruled did not comply with the Voting Rights Act. It will be up to Jones to decide if the new maps pass muster.
As it stands, the proposed Senate map will leave Republicans with a 33-23 advantage in the Senate.
On Wednesday legislators will plunge into their redistricting work during a special session at the Capitol. In addition to the state Senate maps, lawmakers must also redraw electoral maps to create Black majorities in one additional congressional district in west-metro Atlanta, and in five additional state House districts in Atlanta and the Macon-Bibb County area.
The proposed Senate maps (and all proposed maps to be submitted by legislators) are available on the Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment Office’s website. Written comments can be submitted (and viewed) by the public through the portal available on the Georgia General Assembly website. Most of the reapportionment and redistricting committee’s hearings are open to the public; the daily legislative schedule is available here.
“The committee encourages public participation and values the input of the community in this vital democratic process,” Echols said in a statement released on Monday.
Subscribe to State Affairs so you will have unlimited access to all of our stories.
Veteran government and political aide Lauren Curry has been named Gov. Brian Kemp’s chief of staff, becoming the first woman in Georgia’s 235-year history to hold that title. Curry, currently the deputy chief of staff, assumes her new role on Jan. 15. She succeeds Trey Kilpatrick who has accepted a job with Georgia Power as …
ATLANTA — An invitation-only tribute service for former first lady Rosalynn Carter will be held at 1 p.m. today on the campus of Emory University at Glenn Memorial United Methodist Church. Former President Jimmy Carter, who has been receiving hospice care at home in Plains since February, is expected to attend, along with other Carter …