This story originally appeared in the Oregon Capital Chronicle and is republished here under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 license. Read more stories at oregoncapitalchronicle.com.
Gov. Tina Kotek on Tuesday issued new orders to forgive unpaid traffic fines for more than 10,000 Oregonians, making them eligible to get their driving privileges reinstated.
Those Oregonians should have been eligible to apply for reinstatement of their driver’s license nearly a year ago. In December 2022, former Gov. Kate Brown issued an order that forgave unpaid fines for about 7,000 people, making them eligible to get their license back. But state officials found that more than 10,000 people should have been included in that order, the governor’s office said in a press release.
“Debt-based driver’s license suspensions disproportionately impact rural and low-income Oregonians,” Kotek said in a statement. “For families who are already struggling to make ends meet, these orders seek to remove one more barrier to financial stability.”
Oregon Driver and Motor Vehicle Services notified Kotek’s office after it discovered that the original criteria used to identify people eligible for a license excluded people, DMV spokesperson Michelle Godfrey said.
Kotek’s decision does not change Brown’s 2022 order that forgave fines for traffic violations but rather fixes it by adding people who meet the original criteria. Traffic crimes like vehicular manslaughter are excluded from reinstatement.
In 2020, the Oregon Legislature passed House Bill 4210, which ended the state’s ability to suspend a driver’s license solely for failure to pay a fine for a minor traffic violation. But that law did not apply retroactively. Brown’s order gave those people a chance to fix that.
Nearly 4,500 people who qualify for reinstatement have not applied for a new license, according to records obtained by the Oregon Law Center, a nonprofit that provides free legal aid and advocacy for low-income people. It has asked the state to do more to inform them of their eligibility besides publishing their names in the media. Center officials want the state to notify people by letter.
“We hope that everyone who’s affected by the order will learn about it as soon as possible so that they can get their licenses reinstated,” Jamie Trinkle, a staff attorney with the center, said.