As a small business owner in rural Maine, I know first hand the problems caused by the state’s policy of automatically suspending a driver’s license for failure to pay a fine.

My company, Upright Frameworks in Wilton, employs 15 people. I am committed to providing employment for people in the area where I grew up — where steady work is otherwise hard to come by. As the economy in rural Maine has declined over the last 30 years, good people have fought hard to stay afloat and in some cases they have resorted to desperate measures. I employ good, hard-working people, but over the years, several have had brushes with the law. Over the last decade, I would estimate that there have been a dozen occasions when employees have had their licenses suspended for not paying court fines or fees on time.

All businesses (including mine) face logistical challenges. On-site service providers, such as builders, have it particularly hard. Matching the unique needs of a customer with a crew that has the appropriate combination of skills and experience is a big part of my job. When one of my employees loses his driver’s license, this task becomes a nightmare. Public transportation is not a viable option in most parts of rural Maine, including Wilton. And it’s not uncommon for one member of a crew to live 15 miles from his closest colleague. Sure, my employees like each other, but it’s one thing to pick someone up on your way to work and another thing entirely to drive 30 miles out of your way to drive that person to and from work. Thus, I sometimes pay employees to pick each other up.

And even once an employee can finally pay his fine and get his license back, I still have to give him the day off to deal with the administrative hurdles.

I value my employees and I am willing to do a lot of juggling to keep them employed, but it does take time and money out of my pocket to do so. And many employers, understandably, are not able to make these accommodations. That means that when most individuals lose their license because they can’t pay a fine, they’re very likely going to lose their job too. How someone is supposed to repay a fine after losing their job is anybody’s guess. If the state really wants to collect missing fines payments, it seems like a better policy would be one that makes it easier — not harder — for people to stay employed.

Even with the help of the company and their coworkers, I can see how hard it becomes for my employees to get to work when they lose their licenses. I can only imagine how difficult other necessary tasks become: buying groceries, getting their kids to doctors’ appointments, making it to court dates for the related hearings. If someone gets fined for breaking the law, I don’t understand why we’re making it so hard for them to repay the fine. If you set an individual up for failure like this, they are bound to end up back in the criminal justice system.

It makes sense that we would want to take away a person’s driver’s license for a driving-related offense, because licenses are about who is and isn’t a safe driver. But when the offense has nothing to do with driving, this punishment doesn’t seem to fit the crime. In some ways, it just seems like we’re punishing people for being poor.

The Maine Legislature is considering a bill, L.D. 1190, that would end automatic license suspensions for unpaid fines related to most non-driving related offenses. I fully support the passage of this bill because I think there are better ways to enforce fine payments that won’t harm small businesses like mine, and won’t have such a disproportionate effect on people who live in rural Maine. Work and transportation are already hard enough to come by here — why make it even harder?

Joshua Wojcik owns Upright Frameworks, a business focusing on energy efficient home construction and remodeling based in Wilton.

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