State law taking effect Tuesday means Pa. won’t take your driver’s license away for some drug offenses

    A sample Pennsylvania driver's license (Commonwealth of Pa. photo)

    What state officials described as a “roadblock” to employment was lifted Tuesday, as a new state law eliminating driver’s license suspensions for some non-driving related offenses took full effect.

    Gov. Tom Wolf signed the new rules, formally known as Act 95 of 2018, into law last October. They amend current law “to reflect that a driving privilege suspension will no longer be imposed for certain non-highway safety violations, including substance use violations,” Wolf’s office said in a statement.

    The York County Democrat credited the Republican-controlled General Assembly for “[stepping] up and [enacting] this commonsense legislation that promotes smart sentencing reform but there is more work to do.

    “We need to break down even more unnecessary and especially difficult roadblocks to success and stability. Having a valid driver’s license often is the key to finding and keeping a job, especially in parts of Pennsylvania where public transportation isn’t readily accessible,” Wolf said in a statement released by his office.

    The underlying legislation, House Bill 163, was sponsored by former Rep. Rick Saccone, R-Allegheny, who unsuccessfully ran for Congress last year.

    Speaking to WESA-FM in Pittsburgh last year, Saccone said the bill would allow thousands of people formerly barred from driving to rejoin the workforce.

    “They can’t go to work, they can’t go to school, they can’t go to rehab, they can’t do anything. It’s hard to function in our society without a driver’s license,” Saccone told the station. “In a time when we’re short of workers, when unemployment is so low … these are skilled and experienced people who want to work and they can’t because they can’t get there.”

    On Tuesday, Wolf’s office said the new law means that the state “will no longer automatically suspend upwards of 20,000 driver’s licenses each year for reasons that don’t include driving offenses.” The original suspension law came in response to Congressional threats to withhold federal highway funding if states didn’t enact automatic license suspensions for drug offenses.

    “I hope the nine remaining states with this archaic law will follow Pennsylvania’s lead in championing commonsense criminal justice reform such as ending driver’s license suspensions for non-driving offenses,” Wolf said.

    An award-winning political journalist with more than 25 years' experience in the news business, John L. Micek is The Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. Before joining The Capital-Star, Micek spent six years as Opinion Editor at PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa., where he helped shape and lead a multiple-award-winning Opinion section for one of Pennsylvania's most-visited news websites. Prior to that, he spent 13 years covering Pennsylvania government and politics for The Morning Call of Allentown, Pa. His career has also included stints covering Congress, Chicago City Hall and more municipal meetings than he could ever count, Micek contributes regular analysis and commentary to a host of broadcast outlets, including CTV-News in Canada and talkRadio in London, U.K., as well as "Face the State" on CBS-21 in Harrisburg, Pa.; "Pennsylvania Newsmakers" on WGAL-8 in Lancaster, Pa., and the Pennsylvania Cable Network. His weekly column on American politics is syndicated nationwide to more than 800 newspapers by Cagle Syndicate.

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