Golden opportunity for drivers with suspended licenses might go away

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A golden opportunity for Tennesseans with suspended drivers licenses might be going away. Right now, many of them can get their licenses reinstated for free as long as their license was only suspended because of failure to pay traffic fines.

A federal judge ordered the state to offer this last week while ruling on a class action lawsuit. The judge also ordered the state to stop suspending licenses because of failure to pay.

Josh Spickler is a criminal justice system reform advocate with a group called Just City.

"For a judge to say this practice is unconstitutional and not okay is a really big deal," he says.

He supports the order and says punishing people for not being able to pay traffic fines makes things worse.

"By making it more difficult for people to drive simply because they couldn't pay for a ticket it locks them out of jobs. It locks them out of the mainstream economy and it may lead them to criminal activity," Spickler says.

This opportunity for hundreds of thousands of Tennesseans might not last.

The Department of Safety and Homeland Security is appealing. The department says it’s losing revenue by waiving fees and claims the losses will make it hard to provide necessary services to the public.

Spickler acknowledges the need for traffic fines but says there should be a system in place to make sure someone can pay them, like income verification.

"If we had that I think we could have a satisfactory drivers license system," he says.

It’s unclear when a ruling on this appeal will come down.