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Class Action Law Suit Aims To Stop Michigan From Suspending The Licenses Of The Working Poor

You pick up a couple of routine traffic tickets, but because you live week to week on your meager paycheck, you can’t pay them immediately.

The state then suspends your license, which means you can’t drive to work, which means you not only can’t pay it off, you risk losing your job.

It’s a vicious circle which has resulted in a class action lawsuit.

An article on the auto news web site Jalopnik highlights the frustrations of the working poor in Michigan, who routinely have their licenses suspended for fines they couldn’t pay immediately.

The law has resulted in a class action lawsuit by the group Equal Justice Under Law, filed May 4, representing two Detroit area women who say losing the privilege to drive cost them their jobs (not to mention their health) and hence their ability to ever pay the fines back, and sending them into a spiral of more poverty.

Phil Telfeyan, executive director of Equal Justice Under Law told the website Daily Beast:

“This is a moneymaking scheme for Michigan, but it’s completely irrational because they are piling fees on people who cannot afford them and then they’re punishing these people for no other reason than they are too poor to pay.

The group filed the lawsuit against Michigan’s Secretary of State, Ruth Johnson last Thursday.

Transportation issues are a huge problem for those Michigan residents who hover close to the poverty line, but are in fact, gainfully employed. A recent article in the Detroit Free Press highlighted how difficult it was to stay employed in that area without having access to a car.

And the New York Times published a piece on how much having reliable transportation plays a part in the effort to become upwardly mobile and escape poverty.

The Jalopnik article offered several solutions to the problem, including a look at how Finland offers a sliding scale for traffic fines based on your income.

The goal of the civil suit seeks to order Michigan to reinstate licenses of those who couldn’t afford to pay fines, and to seek a workable solution for paying off the fines instead.

It’s important to note, the suit only covers suspensions for non-payment of fines, and does not cover removal of suspensions for dangerous driving or driving under the influence.

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