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Bill To remove license suspension for Massachusetts Drug offenses stalls in Senate

Last month the House voted unanimously for a bill that would repeal the 1989 Massachusetts law requiring automatic license suspensions for drug offenses, regardless of whether or not offenses had a driving component. The Bill was passed by the Senate last year. However, Republican House members added an amendment to the Bill restoring the five year license suspension for drug trafficking charges. In an effort to uphold the purpose behind the Bill, the Senate added an amendment abolishing the drug trafficking exception, effectively repealing the House’s amendment and stalling the Bill.

The automatic license suspension for drug charges arose under a federal law created during the “War on Drugs” that called for automatic license suspensions for drug offenders but allowed states to opt out. 34 other states have repealed similar suspensions. As the law stands now anyone who has been convicted of a drug offense faces a six month to five year license suspension and additional fees to reinstate. The license loss is also reported on their Registry of Motor Vehicles record, which can be accessible by employers.

The law is a throwback to a time when less was understood about addiction and the addicted. Proponents of repealing the law say that the license loss has stalled people from becoming successful members of society . Often times the license loss effects the person convicted longer than the jail time or probation. The license loss prevents those convicted from finding or keeping jobs. It affects their ability to take case of their children. This can lead to a feeling of helplessness and lead to new offenses.

The Bill would repeal the current law and would waive reinstatement fees for those who have already lost their license under the current law. However, the amendment added in the House would keep the five year license suspension for those convicted of drug trafficking. The Republican members of the House who support the amendment argue that traffickers are not the struggling addicts the new Bill was created to protect.

Proponents of a complete abolition of license suspensions for non driving drug offenses strongly disagree with the House’s amendment stating that keeping the license loss for trafficking flies in the face of the original purpose of the Bill. In an effort to remove this hindrance, the Senate further amended the Bill by removing the House’s amendment.

The Bill is now stalled until a resolution between the House and Senate can be reached. The Bill is once again before the House with the Senate’s amendment to remove the trafficking suspension. The House can either act on the Bill without the trafficking suspension or try to work out a compromise.

It is so important for the House and Senate to resolve the trafficking amendment, as the Bill is seen as a victory for many proponents of criminal justice reform. The Bill would allow those struggling with addiction the opportunity to get back on their feet. It would allow them to attend meetings, treatment and get to work. For many struggling, the license loss has been more cumbersome and longer lasting than any jail time or probation.

This is an important case for Massachusetts residents because Massachusetts its one of the states that has been affected by this law. There have been several drug offenders in Massachusetts who have been burdened by not being able to have their licenses. Kayla Canne of the Attleboro Sun Chronicle explains that in the last couple of years, Congress has been trying to ease the harshness of many of the punishments that are given to drug offenders. The law regarding license suspensions for drug offenders was originally meant to crack down on the drug crimes that began to rise in the 1980s. Currently, this law affects over 7,000 people in Massachusetts, and prevents people from bettering their lives in a number of ways.

The Boston Globe also explains that since many of these drug crimes have nothing to do with driving, it is hard to imagine what suspending a license after an individual has already paid the price for their crime will do for a person. This will likely frustrate many people and obviously prevents them from a variety of rehabilitation methods. Many people have spoken out, advocating for the repeal of this law.

There is no reason to punish someone for a crime for years after they have gone to jail and served their time for it by making it difficult for the person to work and earn a living.  There is a lot of potential in this repeal and hopefully a new bill will help to actually decrease the amount of drug crimes in Massachusetts. I see this as a huge possibility, as if people have resources available to them for any help they may need, they are very likely to take advantage of it.

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