Gov. Kate Brown has forgiven more than $1.8 million in unpaid court fines and fees for traffic violations, which allows nearly 7,000 Oregonians to get their driver’s license reinstated. (Photo by Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter via Oregon Capital Chronicle)

Gov. Kate Brown has forgiven more than $1.8 million in unpaid court fines and fees in traffic violations that, until now, prevented nearly 7,000 Oregonians from getting their driver’s license reinstated.

The action on Wednesday allows them to seek reinstatement of their driver’s license through the Oregon Driver & Motor Vehicle Services agency. The move is intended to eliminate traffic violations that disproportionately impact low-income Oregonians and people of color who cannot afford to pay citations, the governor’s office said in a release.

In 2020, Brown signed House Bill 4210, which prohibited driver license suspensions for nonpayment of traffic fines. Brown’s order only applies to people with traffic violations before the law took effect on Oct. 1, 2020.

“The inability to pay a traffic fine should not deprive a person of the ability to lawfully drive to work, school, health care appointments or other locations to meet their daily needs,” Brown said in a statement. “We know that suspending driver’s licenses for unpaid traffic fines is bad public policy – it is inequitable, ineffective and makes it harder for low-income Oregonians to get ahead.”

Brown’s order does not apply to cases that involve misdemeanor or felony traffic offenses. It also does not eliminate court-ordered restitution and compensatory fines for victims. The order does not provide reinstatement for drivers who were suspended for public-safety related reasons unrelated to nonpayment of fines.

Civil rights advocates praised the move, saying it’s necessary to end systemic discrimination that hurts people unable to pay traffic fines. 

Circuit court cases: The Oregon Judicial Department will forgive fees and fines and send notices of reinstatement to the DMV. Individuals will not be blocked due to nonpayment, but the DMV will check their driving status with other states.
Municipal and justice court cases: These courts are responsible for sending notices of reinstatement to the DMV for each case. Those notices will allow former drivers to seek reinstatement.
To find out if your case is covered by the order, go here to look it up. If you have multiple citations, each one will be listed separately if it’s covered.
If you believe that your driver’s license should be reinstated due to the order, contact the DMV at 503-943-9000 or go here and click the
“Ask DMV a Question” box under the “Notify the DMV” tab.

“People of color are disproportionately targeted in traffic enforcement meaning they are more likely to be ticketed and receive a traffic fine,” Sandy Chung, executive director of American Civil Liberties Union or ACLU of Oregon, said in a statement. “Persistent racial discrimination in public and private life, as well as enduring racial disparity in economic opportunity, means people of color are more likely to be low income. This means that it is more widespread for people of color to have a driver’s license suspension due to inability to pay a ticket. They are more likely to be trapped in a cycle of debt, punishment and restricted freedoms than wealthier and whiter people.”

Paul Solomon, executive director of Sponsor, a Eugene-based nonprofit that works with people with convictions, said it will help people exiting prison or jail who need a job.

“One of the most important factors in someone successfully returning home from prison or jail is getting a stable job,” Solomon said in a statement. “Now more than ever, we need to do everything we can to remove barriers to economic stability for low-income individuals.”

The order forgives about $1.8 million in traffic violations in circuit court cases. People with circuit court cases should be able to seek reinstatement in a few weeks, the governor’s office said.

State officials don’t know the amount of unpaid fines and fees tied to cases in Oregon municipal and justice courts because the DMV and Oregon Judicial Department don’t have access to it.

But for those courts, it could take several months to send clearances to the DMV, the governor’s office said.

Most of the debt is considered uncollectible because only about 4% of cases are paid off in the third year, according to the Oregon Judicial Department.

Oregon Capital Chronicle

Oregon Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Oregon Capital Chronicle maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Lynne Terry for questions: Follow Oregon Capital Chronicle on Facebook and Twitter.

Ben Botkin, Oregon Capital Chronicle

Ben Botkin covers justice, health and social services issues for the Oregon Capital Chronicle. He has been a reporter since 2003, when he drove from his Midwest locale to Idaho for his first journalism job. He has written extensively about politics and state agencies in Idaho, Nevada and Oregon. Most recently, he covered health care and the Oregon Legislature for The Lund Report.