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State Attorney’s Program Helps Restore Driver’s Licenses For Those With Minor Offenses

Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams (left) and State Attorney Melissa Nelson (right).
Ryan Benk
Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams (left) and State Attorney Melissa Nelson (right)

State Attorney Melissa Nelson is rolling out a court diversion program to help people with suspended driver’s licenses get back on the road faster.

Fines and court costs can lead to drivers’ losing their right to operate a car and being caught driving with a suspended license can compound the problem.

People with unpaid parking tickets or moving violations can lose their ability to drive, which Nelson said can start a cycle that affects their livelihood. When people can’t afford to pay and get caught driving with suspended licenses, they then face penalties ranging from hundreds of dollars in fees and court costs to jail.

“As indicated by data published by Operation New Hope, we expect this opportunity will empower people to obtain employment,” she said. “They’ve reported when people have valid driver’s licenses their ability to obtain employment increases by 50 percent and so those folks can become in positive contributors to our community.”

The Keys2Drive program will contract case managers from a private company, Court Options. The managers will help people navigate the court process, while they enter into fee payment plans. Court costs would be waived and participants will be eligible to start driving again while they work through the program.

“Obviously there are by extension benefits to our community at large,” Nelson said.

The program would also have the effect of freeing up police officers to manage more severe crimes and ensure more fees are actually paid.

Sex offenders, those suspended as a result of major criminal traffic violations and non-Florida residents will be excluded. Nelson said of the almost 12,000 suspended driver’s licenses cases her office prosecuted last year, around half would’ve qualified for Keys2Drive.

Ryan Benk is a former WJCT News reporter who joined the station in 2015 after working as a news researcher and reporter for NPR affiliate WFSU in Tallahassee.