News Release: Silverman and Robert White Introduce D.C. Driving to Opportunity Act

WASHINGTON, D.C., April 30, 2021 – D.C. Councilmembers Elissa Silverman (I-At-Large) and Robert C. White, Jr. (D-At-Large) today introduced legislation that would end the automatic denial of the issuance and renewal of driver’s licenses for D.C. residents who have unpaid debt to the District. Currently, tens of thousands of residents are denied the ability to get or renew a license if they owe D.C. government as little as $100, which can prevent them from continuing to work or caring for their family.

“Denying a driver’s license simply because someone can’t afford to pay a fine puts some of our residents into perilous circumstances, such as losing a job or driving illegally and risking arrest just to take care of a parent or child,” Silverman said. “Wealth shouldn’t determine who gets to have a driver’s license in our city.” 

The legislation, the D.C. Driving to Opportunity Amendment Act of 2021, removes driver’s license issuance and renewal from the District’s Clean Hands Law, which was put in place in the mid-1990s when the District was under the Financial Control Board to incentivize the collection of debt owed to the city by residents and businesses. The change brings the District in line with the rest of the country, where all but two states have discontinued the practice of denying driver’s license renewals for unpaid fines. Even one parking ticket for parking in a loading zone can mean a resident is in danger of losing their license due to the Clean Hands Law. 

Creating this exception to the Clean Hands Law would remove a penalty that disproportionately impacts Black residents and people of color in our city and is in keeping with the goals of D.C.’s Racial Equity Achieves Results (REACH) Law. The racial disparity created by the existing law is highlighted in Driving DC to Opportunity, a report recently released by Tzedek DC. 

The bill builds on legislation passed by the Council in 2017, also introduced by Silverman, which has restored driver’s licenses for 18,000 District residents whose licenses had been suspended due to unpaid tickets. The D.C. Driving to Opportunity Amendment Act of 2021 is co-introduced by a majority of the Council, including Councilmembers Brianne Nadeau (D-Ward 1), Brooke Pinto (D-Ward 2), Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), Janeese Lewis George (D-Ward 4), Anita Bonds (D-At Large), and Christina Henderson (I-At Large). Councilmember Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) is co-sponsoring the bill.