Driving for Clarity

The Center for Justice and City of Spokane reach an important new compact on driver re-licensing.

In what both parties hailed as a major step in advancing a crucial public service, the City of Spokane and the Center for Justice today formalized an agreement on how they’ll help motorists in the Spokane area regain their driving privileges.

Julie Schaffer (left) with City Prosecutor Ellen O'Hara and copies of the freshly-signed agreement.
Julie Schaffer (left) with City Prosecutor Ellen O’Hara and copies of the freshly-signed agreement.

The “memorandum of understanding” between CFJ and the city/county Community Relicensing Program (CRP) sets out clear criteria to determine which people can enroll in the CRP, and who will be steered to the Center for Justice for re-licensing. As a general rule, the Community Relicensing Program only handles people who’ve had their licenses suspended for failure to pay fines imposed for driving infractions. These cases come under the designation of “driving with license suspended” (DWLS) in the third degree.

The Center traditionally handles more complicated DWLS cases including those in the second and first degree which typically involve failure to pay on driving infractions plus other offenses, such as failure to pay child support. But prior to the MOU, these cases only arrived at the Center upon referral from the CRP. Under new MOU, a relicensing client that fits the mold of the CFJ program, can come directly to CFJ and enroll.

“Today was huge for our clients and I think for both programs,” said CFJ staff attorney Julie Schaffer, “because both programs have the same objectives, we just serve different categories of clients. There is no overlap in who we serve. The agreement that we signed today doesn’t change who each program serves, it provides for more efficiency and more clarity for our clients.”

Schaffer credited City Attorney Nancy Isserlis and City Prosecuting Attorney Ellen O’Hara for their support in developing the agreement signed today. You can listen to Communication Director Tim Connor’s brief interview with Julie Schaffer about today’s relicensing developments here:

Driving with license suspended in the third degree is the mostly commonly charged misdemeanor in Washington state. As Schaffer and others noted in a recent report there is a highly punitive dynamic involved with DWLS convictions that lead to mounting civil penalties and potential jail time for low-income people. The driver relicensing programs allow those caught in the DWLS downward spiral to recover their licenses in exchange for making long-term but manageable commitments to making payments on their fines.

“I think that it is time,” said the Center’s Outreach Coordinator Virla Spencer after today’s meeting, “collaboration has been overdue. We’ve been struggling to get this resolved and now that it is resolved we’re very pleased.

Among those who were also pleased was Spokane Municipal Court Judge Mary Logan.

Citing the clarity of the new agreement, Logan said, “this really is wonderful.”

Asked how it would affect her job, CFJ’s Virla Spencer replied: “It’s not so much our (CFJ’s)  job, it’s about the clients that we serve. Now they’re able to come to us without making a pit stop (at the City). And we’re going to be able to service them the way they should be served.”

—Tim Connor for the Center for Justice.


**Note: this story was revised and updated March 4th to clarify that Spokane County is part of the city/county “Community Relicensing Program” cited in the story.

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