By State House News Service
BOSTON — A public-safety official and some lawmakers want to make it easier for those convicted of drug offenses to legally return to the driver’s seat.
Arguing that not having a driver’s license makes recidivism more likely for newly released inmates, Worcester County Sheriff Lew Evangelidis and Natick Rep. David Linsky spoke Tuesday in favor of legislation allowing drug offenders to retain their licenses after a conviction.
“They have a very difficult time getting their license back, paying their reinstatement fee,” Evangelidis told the Committee on Transportation. “These drug offenses do not have to do with driving.”
The bill would remove the requirement that the Registry of Motor Vehicles suspend without a hearing the licenses of individuals who commit a drug offense.
In Massachusetts, about 7,000 licenses are suspended each year in accordance with that requirement and 2,500 subsequently pay the $500 fee to have their licenses reinstated, said Cassandra Bensahih, secretary of Ex-prisoners and Prisoners Organizing for Community Advancement. She said the law is not effective in preventing people from driving, even when their licenses are suspended.
“Roughly 700 people who have lost their license under this law are later convicted for driving without a license,” Bensahih said.
“Under current law, a person convicted of any drug offense loses her or his driving privileges for up to five years, and must pay at least $500 to reinstate the license,” bill sponsor Sen. Harriette Chandler, a Worcester Democrat, said in a statement.
Bensahih said a 1990 federal law required states to either adopt or reject legislation suspending drug convicts’ licenses, and asked the committee to join 33 other states that have opted out of the law.
“This really does help to ease the re-entry process,” said Linsky, who said that if he and Evangelidis agree on a bill it is probably a good idea. Linsky is a Democrat and Evangelidis is a Republican.
“Probably right about you and the sheriff,” said House Transportation Chairman William Straus, a Mattapoisett Democrat.
“Most employers today value applicants that have driver’s licenses,” said Chandler, who said employers who check driving records sometimes reject job candidates because of drug offenses that appear on the records. The bill would clear the driving records of people who lost their licenses under the law. Chandler said the driving record is a “back door” to criminal records checks.