Md. Lawmaker Wants to Hit Unlicensed Drivers with Jail Time - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Md. Lawmaker Wants to Hit Unlicensed Drivers with Jail Time

01/03/2006

ROCKVILLE, Md. (AP)- A Montgomery County delegate is preparing to introduce legislation that would make driving without a license an offense punishable by jail time in Maryland.

Delegate Luiz Simmons, a Democrat, says the number of people in the state driving without a license has spiked dramatically in recent years.

During the fiscal year that ended in June 2002, 19,878 citations were issued, according to figures Simmons obtained from the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration. In the fiscal year that ended in June, 2005, 30,264 were issued- an increase of 54 percent. The figures do not include people who were cited for driving with a suspended, expired or revoked license.

More than a third of the infractions in the most recent fiscal year occurred in Prince George's and Montgomery Counties, according to Simmons.

Currently, driving without a license in Maryland carries a $315 fine but no threat of jail time, even for multiple offenses.

"You never even have to show up in court," Simmons told The Washington Post. "All you have to do is keep paying" the fine.

When the General Assembly session begins Jan. 11, Simmons plans to introduce legislation that would require people charged with driving without a license to appear in court and face penalties that would include 90 days in jail for a first offense and up to a year in jail for a second offense.

Simmons said studies have shown that unlicensed drivers are a public safety hazard and that his bill will not target any specific group. But an advocate for the rights of illegal immigrants said the legislation would harm them.

Gustavo Torres, executive director of Casa of Maryland, a Silver Spring-based immigrants' rights organization, said he thinks illegal immigrants account for a significant part of the increase in unlicensed drivers in the state.

"Regardless of whether they have driver's licenses, it is how people take their kids to school or go to work. That is the reality," he said.

The state Motor Vehicle Administration often takes four to six months to grant driver's licenses to immigrants, even if they are in the country legally, Torres said.

"The solution is not to penalize people who are driving without driver's licenses," Torres said. "The solution is to speed up the process at MVA to assure that legal and undocumented workers have access to driver's licenses faster."

Large numbers of Latino immigrants, including illegal immigrants, have moved to Maryland in recent years, with many finding homes in Prince George's and Montgomery. Several state lawmakers have tried and failed to pass laws banning illegal immigrants from obtaining driver's licenses.

Simmons said he does not believe that any one group is responsible for the jump in the number of unlicensed drivers.

"There are undocumented aliens who drive without licenses. There are lots of teenagers who drive without licenses. There are elderly people who come here from other areas who drive without a license because they are afraid to apply for one because they have bad eyesight or some other medical infirmity," Simmons said.

Judge Thurman Rhodes, the chief administrative District Court judge in Prince George's County, said many of the people who've been cited for driving without a license in the past two years are Latino immigrants who speak primarily Spanish.

"Some of them seem to be unfamiliar with the system," such as the requirement that a motorist needs a license to drive, Rhodes said.

 

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