Court, Volunteers Help Reinstate Licenses for Suspended Drivers
By Csaba Sukosd | April 8, 2019
For many Franklin County residents, their road leads to the county court. What drives that kind of traffic is a basic necessity for millions of Ohioans: a driver's license.
"I say 30-40 percent of our cases deal with these issues every single day," said Franklin County Municipal Court Judge Cindi Morehart. "We have more people that appear before us for driving under suspension, not having a valid operator's license. It's a tremendous amount of our business."
With thousands of people in Franklin County struggling to get by without a license, Lori Tyack - the county's municipal court clerk - and her staff spent months mapping out a course to reinstatement. The result was a three-day workshop where those with suspensions could receive personalized aid from volunteer attorneys. Upon reviewing their files, the attorneys would guide their clients to any of the 22 city, county, and state agencies on hand, and help resolve whatever they could in person.
"It takes one mistake to lose your license, but there's a mountain of things you have to do before you get it back, and just having the ability to come here in one place, to get all those issues taken care of has just really been a great thing," said Tyack.
The event was part of the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV) Amnesty Initiative, passed by the state legislature in 2018. It's a driver's license reinstatement fee and debt reduction waiver for offenders whose licenses have been suspended. The program is valid through July 31. Prior to the legislation, Franklin County held a pilot event to address the same issues last October.
Of those impacted by this kind of driving detour, many have been without a valid license for years. For some, it's been decades.
"I wasn't legal since I was 20 years old, and I'm 54 years old," said program participant Aaron Seymore.
While there are any number of legal issues that could prevent someone from getting back their license - from judgments on accidents to child support - a lot of times it's a matter of not having the money to pay escalating court costs and fees.
"They're two extra bills on top of all the other bills I had, and with me only making $10 an hour that's hard," said Tosha Greene, who also took part in the program.
Before receiving legal aid and assistance from the BMV, her reinstatement fee was $1,200. "They took it all the way down to $70. I said, 'What?!'" she said.
Having a license back will not only provide her some peace of mind, but also provide a bigger paycheck. Greene - who works at detox treatment facility - said the reinstatement will raise her wages to $12 an hour.
"Many people we're serving today are low-income folks, who - if they have their driver's licenses - are going to be able to either get jobs or get better-paying jobs, because they have more access to them. So, we see this having a very large impact on our community," said Dianna Parker Howie, a managing attorney at the Legal Aid Society of Columbus.