Senate Bill 485, which makes it illegal to suspend a person’s driving license for crimes that are non-vehicle related, passed the California Assembly Wednesday.
The bill makes it clear that offenses such as driving while intoxicated are not covered under the new bill as they are vehicle related. Crimes that would be covered include soliciting or engaging in prostitution or specified lewd conduct, vandalism, possession, and firearm use.
SB 485 also comes with a caveat that a license can only be suspended if it is required by federal law.
The current law currently requires the court to suspend or delay driving, or if a vehicle is needed for work or education, that it’s restricted to only those activities. SB 485 would do away with that, punishing the crime and not adding a driving ban.
SB 485 was introduced by Senator Jim Beall (D-San Jose), the chairman of the Senate Transportation and Housing committee. SB 485 follows a long line of license laws he has backed over the years, such as SB 460, which will allow drivers to renew their car every other year.
His support for this bill stemmed from constituents who have had a license ban, having trouble going to places such as grocery stores and clinics without driving.
Peter Dawson, an advocate in Los Angeles who helps people without a license or a vehicle adjust to their new situation, explained why there is support for the bill. “It’s simple,” explained Dawson. “I had my license taken away ten years ago for what you would call vandalizing someones property. I only used my car to drive there, yet I had my license taken away. It was a stupid and illegal thing, yes, but I needed that car to do a lot of things. Suddenly I had to take public transportation and cabs everywhere.”
“Today when it happens, you have to rely on friends, or Lyft and Uber. Maybe the bus or the subway,” Dawson said. “And it can be a hassle to change. But where it really hurts is rural areas. I’ve helped people out in the middle of nowhere. These places have no public transit, they have no rideshare or cabs, and you’re basically hoping a stranger can help you out.”
“Buying food or going to the bank suddenly becomes an all-day task.”
“If this becomes law, you know, they may be criminals driving, but they’re safe driving criminals who don’t deserve to have everything taken away because of a mistake for a small, non-violent, non-car related crime,” he added.
There has been a lot of support based on these grounds, but there are also a lot of groups wanting to keep the ban in place. The deciding Senate vote passed, but only by a 52-24 vote.
“It doesn’t take away the fact that they did something wrong, and that a car was there,” said Joshua Martinez, a constituent who had helped a local group to try and change Senator Beall’s mind. “This time, sure, maybe a car wasn’t being used totally for that purpose, but next time it may be. We’re talking prostitution and having a gun on them. Some isn’t harmful, but some can be. Like, what if someone with a gun on them in a car is arrested and comes out again and stands to be arrested again? They can flee in that. They could do harm while driving.”
Despite strong opposition to SB 485, the bill is expected to be signed into law.