Driver’s license reinstatement event draws thousands
Driver’s license reinstatement event draws thousands
BY HOLLY KESTENIS, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG – Driving in Florida can be a tricky business especially if you get a ticket you’re unable to pay. In fact some 41,000 people in Pinellas County currently have suspended licenses. State Representative Darryl Rouson and the Dolman Law Group decided to take action and get locals back on the road.
“We’re just glad to be able to provide this service to our community,” said Rouson who believes justice should be accessible to the people. He worked to bring all the proper personnel to one location to make it sort of a one-stop shop. “Hence, the location, the heart of the hood.”
Word got out quickly what Rouson was up to. Flyers were made, but news spread like wildfire through Facebook, Twitter and word of mouth. The line started forming the night before and by early Saturday morning an estimated 2,000 people were clamoring to get into Mt. Zion Progressive, located at 955 20th St. S.
Only a few hundred people were expected, but when Rouson received a call informing him of the long line, he sensed they might be in for more than they bargained. “We had no idea that this turnout would turn out like this,” he said.
All the stops were pulled to make reinstating driver licenses as easy as possible for those who qualified. Members of the Pinellas County Clerk of the Court, a prosecutor, public defender and Judges James Pierce and William Overton from the Sixth Judicial Circuit were set up in the church ready to make a deal. Members of the sheriff department were brought in to help keep the peace as well as check for weapons before citizens were escorted before a judge.
Suspensions due to criminal offenses such as drug possession or DUIs, and non- payment of child support could not be addressed, although there were plenty in those circumstances who showed up anyway like Willie Houston who hasn’t had a license in 10 years due to drug charges and unpaid fines.
“I got here about six,” he said also surprised at the line of people that snaked down Ninth Avenue South. He was hoping to pay the $60 reinstatement fee and be forgiven of his excessive fines.
“We may not being able to help him,” said Rouson who attempted to pass the word that only suspensions due to traffic violations and unpaid tickets could be dealt with right then. But he comforted the crowd with an apology and the hope that they would leave there with at least the knowledge of what to do next to get their licenses reinstated.
Misdemeanor warrants for failing to appear were also dealt with at the church since the Chief Judge designated the facility as a temporary courthouse. The crowd clapped, happy to hear there wouldn’t be anyone carted off to jail.
“So you don’t have to be scared,” said Rouson. But with a laugh he cautioned those that may have a felony warrant. “You might want to slip out of here, unless you want a vacation, and then the sheriff will take you out the back door.”
Shelah Collins license was suspended for court fees for five years. She is disabled and on a fixed income; therefore, it was impossible to make payments on the financial plan they put her on.
“I made like two or three payments and was unable to do anything else at time,” said Collins who expressed that she has so many doctors’ appointments and some cabs won’t take her because she’s overweight. “I feel like if I had my own transportation then I could go myself,” said the newly engaged Collins.
The process went generally quick with roughly 10 minutes being spent on each person, but as the hours dragged on and more and more felt they may not be seen, some became a little restless. Reverend Louis Murphy Sr., pastor of Mt. Zion Progressive knows from experience what it’s like to have your license suspended, but urged everyone to remain calm and show respect not only for the officers and court officials, but for the church as well.
“A lot of work has gone into you being here,” he said suggesting patience. Those inside the church were promised they’d be seen, but those outside and from neighboring counties were sent home. “We’re trying to come up with a follow up process, so please don’t hurt the hand that is trying to help.”
Two Florida Licensing on Wheels (FLOW) mobiles were set up in the parking lot and after fines were reduced and paid, those who were now free and clear of their burdens were escorted out so they could get their license right then.
Depending on the circumstances, some had an easier go of things. One woman was seen leaving the mobile unit with her license in her hand having paid $20 for it and another $60 after negotiating her fees.
Tanaisha Sullivan’s experience was a little different though. Her license has been suspended for the last three years due to two unpaid tickets. In Florida, fees are repeatedly added on for failure to pay. Not only are the offenders slapped with the price of the ticket, but fees on top of that. Then when the amount isn’t paid, the price owed continues to double and more penalties are added. “I was still in high school,” Sullivan said, and like many others she didn’t have the money.
She was ecstatic that they waived some of the fees and reduced others, placing her on a payment plan where she promised to pay $35 each month.
Although the event didn’t go exactly as planned, hundreds were able to get reductions and about 100 people were able to walk away with a license.
The large turnout convinced Rouson that he must plan more events such as this in the near future. Seven hundred people signed up to be notified of the new date, and Judge Overton will have a special calendar on Aug. 28 at traffic court to handle those who signed up.