February 28, 2016

On the road again

This op-ed of mine appeared in the Saturday Gazette-Mail. It's about a simple way we could help more West Virginians get back to work.

A common-sense, bipartisan, and noncontroversial bill that would actually help a lot of people has gained traction in the state legislature. It has already had smooth sailing in the Senate.

This kind of thing doesn’t happen every day.

The bill in question is called the Second Chance Driver’s License Act, aka SB 634/HB 4683, and it was introduced at the request of Gov. Tomblin.

If the political stars line up, it’s a policy solution to a serious problem.

Let’s start with the problem. Every year, over 50,000 West Virginians lose their driving privileges for reasons like fines they can’t afford to pay for things that have nothing to do with DUIs or traffic safety issues.

You don’t have to be an expert on West Virginia to know that:

1. This is a very rural state with little in the way of reliable public transportation.

2. In that environment, if you can’t drive it’s hard to get and keep a job.

3. If you can’t get or keep a job, you don’t have much in the way of a reliable income.

4. If you have no income, it’s hard to pay fines, which makes it hard to get your driving privileges restored.

5. See #1.

Without the ability to drive, it’s often hard to take care of basic family, educational and medical needs. But there are other effects that may not be as obvious.

For example, I recently had the opportunity to talk with several West Virginians who were recovering from opioid addictions. I was stunned to hear from them that the inability to drive — or more exactly, the inability to do all the things that legally driving means — can be a cause of relapse.

Once I thought about it, it made sense. If you can’t get to treatment — let alone take care of the basics — frustrations can mount. Sometimes something snaps.

Fortunately, the policy solution is pretty simple: the legislation in question creates a provisional driver’s license program which eligible participants who have not jeopardized public safety while driving can enter. It would allow them to drive to work provided they make payments on their outstanding obligations.

The idea is to enable people who remain in good standing to repay at least $50 per month and complete the program in the course of a year, although there flexibility that may allow lower payments or longer participation in some cases.

It this passes, everyone would win. Courts and local governments would collect money they otherwise wouldn’t; people can re-enter the workforce, get on with their lives, meet basic family needs and even stay on the road to recovery; local businesses get more employees and paying customers; and the state gains more productive, taxpaying citizens.

We are often reminded of our low workforce participation rates. This is one common sense solution to help more West Virginians get back in the game.

No comments: