BY SENATE MAJORITY LEADER PETER WIRTH
SEN. CRYSTAL DIAMOND BRANTLEY AND
REP. CHRISTINE CHANDLER
At a time when politics are more divisive than ever, New Mexicans have meaningful bipartisan change to celebrate. A new state law went into effect June 16th mandating the Motor Vehicle Division (MVD) no longer suspend driver’s licenses for simply missing an appearance or payment in minor traffic cases. While this highly technical change may sound tedious, it has an enormous impact.
License suspensions are a severe punishment in a state like ours that relies so heavily on driving. When people lose their license, over 40% also lose their job, and those who are able to find jobs take significant pay cuts. If they continue driving, they risk arrest and incarceration. These consequences are felt even more gravely in our rural communities, where a car is an even greater essential. A survey by the Fines and Fees Justice Center shows that rural and semi-rural areas were 31% more likely to have their license suspended than those from urban areas.
Losing your driver’s license for failing to pay a fine threatens a family’s livelihood and has tremendous consequences for our state’s economy. According to a 2023 report produced by New Mexico’s Legislative Finance Committee, New Mexico’s labor force participation rate underperforms most other states. When we consider the reality that we’ve been suspending nearly one in five driver’s licenses for procedural issues alone, it becomes clear how this overly punitive policy contributes to our state’s economic issues. Further, city and state resources were constantly wasted processing these technicalities.
Suspending a driver’s license should be a consequence of dangerous driving, not debt or missed appointments. That is why a diverse, bipartisan coalition of state legislators collaborated with advocates, and the Motor Vehicle Division to thoughtfully amend the traffic code.
New Mexico is the 24th state to curb this practice of debt-based suspensions in the last five years. While once believed to be a way to enforce compliance, states across the country have recognized that these suspensions are counterproductive. Failure to pay isn’t a result of negligence; it’s because people simply can’t afford it. License suspensions make it even more difficult to pay, decreasing rather than increasing the likelihood of compliance.
The new law ends overly-burdensome suspensions without impacting any of the existing legal tools used to actually uphold the safety of the road. Dangerous drivers will still be held accountable. Those drivers with multiple infractions or serious offenses will still be subjected to penalties, including license suspension and revocation. The courts retain their full range of tools to make sure individuals are following the law. Furthermore, the new law doesn’t remove an individual’s responsibility to pay their accrued fines and fees. This isn’t about shirking consequences; it’s about ensuring fairness and ending a process that didn’t make sense to begin with.
The LFC labor force report concluded that, to be nationally competitive, New Mexico would need 100,000 more workers. So far, we’ve given 100,000 New Mexicans back their ability to work, preserved state resources for true public safety matters, and removed a great strain on the lives of so many New Mexican families. We are excited to help the MVD start this process which improves so many aspects of New Mexico’s wellbeing. For more information on the new law, including how to get your license reinstated, visit: