OPLC Report Finds Driver’s License Amnesty Initiative Helped Thousands of Low-income Ohioans

COLUMBUS, Ohio—More than 76,000 Ohioans participated in the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles’ Amnesty Initiative, a six-month pilot program which waived eligible driver’s license reinstatement fees for low-income individuals, according to Moving Forward, a report released today by the Ohio Poverty Law Center. Intended to address the barriers keeping thousands of Ohioans from getting a valid license, the Amnesty Initiative created an opportunity for legal aid organizations to partner with the BMV, Child Support agencies, Job and Family Service offices, volunteer attorneys and local judges and clerks to assist individuals in taking part in the program. The groups hosted free clinics around the state where those with suspended license could receive a personalized plan for getting back on the road legally.

The program was beneficial for drivers and the state, said Ohio Poverty Law Center staff attorney Megan O’Dell. Low-income Ohioans saved more than $63 million during the Amnesty Initiative and the BMV collected $3.6 million in fines and fees. “The Amnesty Initiative was a great first step in addressing the more than three million pending license suspensions in the state,” she said. “The program was eagerly received by organizations that routinely see how difficult it is for people without driver’s license to get to work as well as the government agencies that are able to assist people in getting valid. While thousands of people were assisted, it’s clear that the need for amnesty still exists.”

The Amnesty Initiative provides opportunities for people to move forward with their lives, said Franklin County Municipal Court Judge Jodi Thomas, who participated in the Franklin County clinic.

“Many of the cases that come in front of me are traffic cases for driving without a valid license. The majority of these individuals have gone years without a license because they did not know the steps to take to get a license. Most of these people had accrued so many fees putting them in a hole with no way out. The Amnesty Initiative not only helped waived fees for indigency, but it also brought together agencies and resources that could restore their license.”

The spirit of cooperation among the entities organizing the clinics was remarkable, said Perry County Municipal Judge Dean Wilson. He helped organize a clinic in his rural county, where about 85 percent of the people who come before the court are indigent. “As a member of the OSBA Board of Governors involved with policy and legislative tracking, I was well in-tune with what the objective of the program was. I saw its success in Franklin and Perry counties,” he said. “Receptiveness is what makes the program work. When everyone is on board with the mission and works together to help these people reinstate, it makes a significant impact.”

Gwendy Holloway, a Newark resident who attended a clinic in Licking County, had 20-year-old fines that were preventing her from getting a license and was unclear how to address them. The BMV waived $700 in fees and she left the clinic eligible to take her driver’s license test. “I hadn’t been able to pay on those for years,” she said. “The clinic was good. There were a lot of people there ready to answer questions and help.”

Ninety percent of individuals that sought help through the program, which ran from Jan. 31 to July 31, received it. Suspensions related to alcohol or drug abuse or a deadly were not eligible for the Amnesty Initiative. Individuals who receive SNAP benefits were eligible for fee waivers. The average waived per person was $1,270. Individuals who do not receive food assistance were eligible for fee reductions. The average reduction was $789.

About OPLC
The Ohio Poverty Law Center’s mission is to reduce poverty and increase justice by protecting and expanding the legal rights of Ohioans living, working, and raising their families in poverty.