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Massachusetts may soon end license suspensions for drug offenses, with one caveat

by Alison Walsh, March 17, 2016

Earlier this week, a Massachusetts conference committee reached a compromise on a bill that would end the state’s practice of automatically suspending driver’s licenses of people convicted of drug offenses. Since 1989, anyone convicted of a drug offense in Massachusetts, even an offense unrelated to driving or road safety, would receive an additional punishment: the loss of his or her license and a $500 fee to reinstate it.

As we documented in our 2014 report, Suspending Common Sense in Massachusetts: Driver’s license suspensions for drug offenses unrelated to driving, this law is not just ineffective, it’s harmful. Instead of deterring criminal activity, license suspensions present another obstacle to steady employment for the estimated 7,000 Massachusetts residents whose driver’s licenses are suspended each year for drug offenses.

The Massachusetts Senate approved a stronger version of the bill last year that would have ended license suspensions for all people convicted of drug offenses, including those convicted of trafficking offenses. The version of the bill that ultimately prevailed will include a House amendment that unfortunately allows suspensions for drug trafficking to continue.

The compromise on trafficking means that this issue is not fully resolved. But the bill’s passage and the broad support it received from law enforcement and Attorney General Maura Healey represent declining public support for the War on Drug’s costly and counterintuitive sentencing policies.

The bill now heads to Governor Baker’s desk.

Update March 24, 2016: We were previously mistaken that the bill would go straight to Governor Baker’s desk following conference committee. After the conference committee reached a compromise, the bill was sent back to the House, which unanimously voted to approve the legislation. The bill will now head to the Senate, which passed a similar version of the bill last year, before reaching the desk of Governor Charlie Baker.

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