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Bill signed by Pa. Gov. Wolf will lift driver’s license suspensions for some old convictions

Matt Rourke
The state Capitol is shown in this undated file photo.

A bill signed by Gov. Tom Wolf will retroactively lift driver’s license suspensions for potentially thousands of people who had non-driving related offenses.

The state used to suspend licenses for a number of non-driving related crimes. Legislation passed in 2018 ended this practice going forward, but didn’t address licenses that had been previously suspended.

Both pieces of legislation were championed by criminal justice reform advocates who said license suspensions for minor drug convictions were a relic of the War on Drugs, and a major barrier when people were trying to find jobs or otherwise overcome their criminal convictions.

“It doesn't make any sense to take away somebody's ability to drive when we're asking them to be productive and rehabilitated citizens. It means they can't go to work. They can't go to school. They can't provide for their family,” said Jenna Bottler, deputy director for the Justice Action Network, one of the groups that advocated for the bill.

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House Bill 987, which was signed by Gov. Wolf on Thursday, was unanimously approved by both the state House and Senate.

Advocates didn’t have an estimate as to how many people would be impacted by the change, other than to say it was in the thousands.

At a 2017 state House hearing about license suspensions, PennDOT said in the prior year, the agency had received and processed approximately 27,000 drug conviction violations.

A 2016 report from the Prison Policy Initiative estimated Pennsylvania suspended about 20,000 licenses annually for drug offenses unrelated to driving, and said those suspensions disproportionately harm the poor and waste taxpayer resources with administrative costs.

Kate Giammarise focuses her reporting on poverty, social services and affordable housing. Before joining WESA, she covered those topics for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for nearly five years; prior to that, she spent several years in the paper’s Harrisburg bureau covering the legislature, governor and state government. She can be reached at or 412-697-2953.