Judges around state call for veto of ‘Free to Drive’ bill

WWNY Judges around state call for veto of ‘Free to Drive’ bill

WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) - A bill which, in certain cases, prevents the suspension of driver licenses, is drawing criticism from New York state judges.

A group representing hundreds of town and village courts has asked Governor Cuomo to pump the breaks and veto the legislation.

Back in July, the “Free to Drive” bill passed in the state Legislature in Albany.

The bill was intended to protect drivers from having their licenses suspended for failing to pay fines related to traffic violations or failing to appear in court for something like a traffic ticket.

It would also create a payment plan system for drivers.

Assemblyman Mark Walczyk (R. - 116th District) voted in favor of the bill, calling it an excellent piece of legislation.

“I applaud the sponsor of this bill for doing something that makes sense to those who are in poverty,” Walczyk said on the Assembly floor. “It allows them to pay over time so that they’re not spiraling into poverty, losing their car, losing their license.”

Assemblyman Ken Blankenbush (R. - 117th District) voted against the bill. He said the state needs a way to enforce payment of traffic tickets.

“What are we going to do? What can you hold against them? You can’t take their driver’s license away,” he said.

Now, The New York State Magistrates Association, a group that represents more than 2,000 town and village judges, has penned a letter to Governor Cuomo asking him to veto the bill.

“We were not consulted about it in advance,” said Jonah Triebwasser, president of the New York State Magistrates Association.

He says the bill allows people to disregard and disrespect the law.

“We’re concerned that this will allow people who thumb their nose at the authority of the court and who get a lot of tickets and endanger the driving and pedestrian public through speeding or other driving violations, it will allow them to just keep doing it with impunity,” he said.

Triebwasser says during the COVID-19 pandemic, the governor issued a moratorium.

It blocked judges from suspending driver licenses if they don’t pay fines or don’t show up to court.

This bill, he says, would make that moratorium permanent.

“You have people that are not driving safely and just don’t care and they keep doing it because there’s no consequence,” he said.

A spokesperson for the governor says he will review the bill.

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