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Oregon governor forgives uncollected traffic fines and fees, allowing people to get their driver’s license

A pair of parking meters on the edge of a city street.
Chris Lehman
Thousands of Oregon drivers may soon be able to get their driver's licenses again after Gov. Tina Kotek announced she plans to forgive uncollected traffic fines and fees standing in the way. Some of that debt stems from unpaid parking tickets in places like downtown Eugene.

Gov. Tina Kotek issued an executive order Tuesday that forgives unpaid traffic fees and court fines for about 10,000 people so they can get their driver’s license reinstated.

Kotek said in a statement that “debt-based license suspensions” disproportionately harm rural and low income Oregonians by creating financial hurdles that are hard to overcome.

“For families who are already struggling to make ends meet, these orders seek to remove one more barrier to financial stability,” she wrote.

The state Legislature passed House Bill 4210 in 2020, which prohibited license suspensions for nonpayment of traffic fines. The measure was not retroactive, however, and did not help those who currently had their license suspended.

Kotek’s predecessor, Gov. Kate Brown, later forgave unpaid court fines and fees for about 7,000 people who weren’t helped by the new law. The Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles discovered that not everyone who was eligible was helped under Brown’s order, so Kotek’s executive order captures those who were unintentionally left out the first time around.

The remission for the fines and fees do not apply to people who have fees related to traffic crimes or owe compensatory fines to victims. They only apply to traffic fines, such as unpaid parking tickets.

“License suspension plunges already low-income people further into a spiral of debt which it is extremely difficult to escape,” said Sybil Hebb, with the Oregon Law Center.

The majority of the fines and fees forgiven are considered uncollectible debt, according to a press release from the governor’s office. Most of the debt has not been paid for three or more years. The order forgives about $6 million worth of fines from circuit court cases in Oregon. It’s unknown how much was remitted from Oregon municipal and justice courts.

After Brown issued her remission orders, the Oregon Law Center created a video explaining what remission orders do and how to get your driver’s license back if you’re eligible. The Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles also has a webpage explaining how to apply for debt forgiveness.

Copyright 2023 Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Lauren Dake