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Bill would curb court power to suspend driver’s licenses

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(The Center Square) – For nearly a year, Ohio lawmakers have been trying to stop the state from using driver’s license suspension as a punishment for things unrelated to driving.

The idea has support from Republicans, Democrats and countless other professional, policy and social groups. Still, despite four hearings in the Senate Judiciary Committee, it has yet to move to a full vote in the Senate.

Sponsors Sens. Louis Blessing III, R-Colerain Township, and Catherine Ingram, D-Cincinnati, say current law sets people up for failure rather than reform.

“The goal of Senate Bill 37 is not to eliminate consequences for people’s actions, but our current system of penalties often sets people up for failure without a chance to make better choices for themselves,” the two testified.

For the past decade, Ohio courts have enjoyed unlimited authority to restrict driving privileges for any purpose. State law allows for a license suspension for nearly 70 violations.

Alex Certo, a legal fellow with Columbus-based policy group The Buckeye Institute, said millions of Ohioans have had their licenses revoked for things unrelated to driving, such as truancy, drug offense misdemeanors, court fines and other debt-related offenses.

He testified license suspensions should “target dangerous offenses involving operating motor vehicles, such as driving under the influence, and vehicular homicide.”

Throughout the four hearings, which began in February, with the most recent coming this week, the only opposition has come from the state’s prosecuting attorneys, who say blanket authority to suspend a driver’s license is an important tool for law enforcement.

“A suspended driver’s license can be part of the totality of the circumstances that law enforcement uses to gauge whether a driver is engaged in other criminal activity. This, of course, can ultimately lead to vehicle searches and the discovery of more serious crimes,” testified Louis Tobin, executive director of the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association. “A suspended driver’s license is an even more critical part of the equation with the recent passage of Issue 2 and the impact that adult-use marijuana law will have on vehicle stops and searches.”

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