A Victory for Fairness and Work

The General Assembly overwhelming passed House Bill 163 last night—an important win for people who believe in fair punishments and work as a means to independence. The legislation, previously highlighted in our Safe and Smart series, would end the suspension of driver’s licenses for people convicted of non-violent, non-driving offenses.

The law prevents suspensions in the following cases:

  • conviction of underage purchase, consumption, possession, or transportation of liquor or malt or brewed beverages in a licensed facility (casino);
  • purchasing or attempting to purchase tobacco as a minor;
  • carrying a false identification card by any person under 21 years of age;
  • and any offense involving the possession, sale, delivery, offering of sale, holding of sale, or giving away of any controlled substance under state or federal law.

The bill represents decent progress in reducing a barrier to work—a lack of transportation—for people trying to reintegrate into society. As my colleague Elizabeth points out, the automatic license suspension policy is one of the biggest roadblocks for organizations like the Trade Institute of Pittsburgh, which helps returning citizens rebuild their lives.  

While lawmakers and advocates should be proud of this win, there’s plenty of work left to do. As we detailed in Safer Communities, Smarter Spending, Pennsylvania’s prison population is the highest in the Northeast. And the state’s community supervision population—those on probation and parole—is the second highest in the country. Couple these statistics with other state-imposed barriers to work—like occupational licensing—and it’s clear that Pennsylvania has a lot of room for improvement.

The victories on driver’s license suspensions and “clean slate” legislation—along with the progress on the Justice Reinvestment Initiative—should reassure advocates that this is not the end of criminal justice reform. It’s just the beginning.