NORTH PORT — If you’re among the nearly 500,000 Floridians with a suspended driver license, Operation Green Light may be for you.
During the driver license reinstatement event, in Sarasota County the usual 25% collection agency fee will be waived and monthly payment plans will be available. Those accepted into the payment program under most circumstances would be allowed to keep their driver license.
While Operation Green Light, which dates back to 2015 in Florida, works for many, it isn’t helping those in the toughest circumstances, said Ashley Thomas, state director for the Fines and Fees Justice Center, a nonprofit advocacy group working to reform fines and fees as punishment and to limit or end it as a tool to raise revenue.
Those most impacted will get fined for toll violations or driving with a suspended license, for example. The initial fine may go above the violator’s ability to pay, then they’re double walloped by late fees and a collection agency’s 25%-40%. And before long, the violator is buried and has his/her license suspended for failure to pay. Which is what Operation Green Light is supposed to address. Those struggling to make ends meet, however, “have a deeper hole to climb out of,” Thomas said. “Seventy-two percent of suspensions are failure to pay. It isn’t driving related.”
Karen Rushing, Sarasota’s Clerk of the Circuit Court and County Comptroller, gets it. But her job is enforcing the rules. So Sarasota County takes the proactive move of sending notices to those facing possible license suspensions, for instance, she said. “We agree there are some people in circumstances so big they can’t get out of it,” she said. “We try to get in at the front-end too.”
Thomas suggested alternatives to fines for those hit with tickets and suspensions, such things as points, even eliminating the system and finding a fresh approach. Some drivers with suspended licenses must decide to further break the law when circumstances dictate, she said. “You have to have the ability to get to work, drive the kids to school,” she said, adding that fines and fees set some up for a “lifetime of debt.”
Sarasota County offers extended service hours, from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, at both offices, the Robert L. Anderson Administration Building, 4000 South Tamiami Trail, Venice, and the Historic Courthouse in Sarasota, 2000 Main St.
Statewide, 62 clerks will be participating in the program, which will now be held annually. A ticket must be paid in the county in which it was issued, so drivers with tickets in more than one county may be able to use the program in each one.