In brief: DMV’s court order, Brown’s abrupt closing, Murray’s lump of coal and more

Courtesy DMV Courtesy DMV

Driver’s license suspensions under siege

A federal judge granted a preliminary injunction December 21 and ordered Department of Motor Vehicles Commissioner Richard Holcomb to reinstate the driver’s licenses of three plaintiffs who automatically lost their licenses when they were unable to pay court costs and fines. The judge said they are likely to prevail in their arguments that such automatic suspensions are unconstitutional.

That same week, Governor Ralph Northam called for an end to the practice. And Republican state Senator Bill Stanley has filed a bill that would end the automatic suspensions.

The class-action lawsuit—Stinnie v. Holcomb—challenges the automatic loss of driving privileges regardless of a person’s ability to pay and without notice or a hearing. Brought by the Legal Aid Justice Center in Charlottesville, the case alleges that approximately 650,000 Virginians have had their licenses suspended for reasons that have nothing to do with driving violations and solely for failure to pay fines.

In his ruling, Judge Norman Moon says, “While the Court recognizes the Commonwealth’s interest in ensuring the collection of court fines and costs, these interests are not furthered by a license suspension scheme that neither considers an individual’s ability to pay nor provides him with an opportunity to be heard on the matter.”

Two of the plaintiffs—Damian Stinnie and Adrianne Johnson—are from Charlottesville, and Moon’s injunction noted how the inability to drive affected their ability to find employment and “created a cycle of debt.”

His ruling only affects the plaintiffs in the case, and the DMV is ordered to reinstate their licenses without charging its $145 reinstatement fee.

“Today’s ruling is a victory for the Constitution and for common sense. The Court stated unequivocally that Virginia’s driver’s license suspension statute likely violates procedural due process rights, says Angela Ciolfi, executive director of Legal Aid Justice Center, in a release.

Since the case was filed in 2016, the issue, which advocates call a “modern-day debtors prison,” has gained national attention. Lawsuits have been filed in six other states and a federal judge in Tennessee recently issued a similar injunction there.

Quote of the week

“We cannot ignore the role of firearms in mass school shootings, nor should we avoid our responsibility as legislators to act.”Democratic minority report to a House of Delegates committee report on school safety that does not address gun violence

In brief

Eugenics landmark closes

The Central Virginia Training Center outside Lynchburg, where 4,000 Virginians were sterilized, often without their knowledge, will close in 2020. Charlottesvillian Carrie Buck was sent there in 1924, because she was pregnant and accused of promiscuity and “feeble-mindedness.” In Buck v. Bell, the U.S. Supreme Court famously ruled that “three generations of imbeciles are enough,” and okayed her later sterilization. The institution stopped performing sterilizations in 1952 but continued to care for the intellectually disabled.

Hung out to dry

Brown’s Cleaners abruptly shuttered its four stores Christmas Eve, leaving employees without paychecks—and customers wondering how to retrieve their dry cleaning. A sign said to check legal notices in the Daily Progress about how to pick up orders, but as of December 28, the Progress said it had received no info from the 71-year-old business, which took its website down and left phones unanswered. NBC29 reports the company declared bankruptcy.

Virginians favor pot decriminalization

A new ACLU poll shows 71 percent of registered voters favor dropping criminal penalties for small amounts of marijuana, and 63 percent say it should be legal and regulated like alcohol. The poll also shows a majority believe that race or economic status influence how one is treated in the criminal justice system, and 62 percent say fewer people should be sent to prison because it costs taxpayers too darn much.

Garrett’s swan song

Tom Garrett file photo

In his last days as 5th District representative, Tom Garrett saw President Donald Trump sign his bill renaming the Barracks Road Shopping Center post office in honor of Captain Humayun Khan, a UVA grad who died in Iraq in 2004. The Republican also delivered a bipartisan letter to Trump opposing the president’s decision to remove U.S. troops from Syria, calling it a threat to national security.

Lump o’ coal

Jim Murray contributed photo

The office of UVA Vice Rector Jim Murray got a visit from one of “Santa’s elves,” who delivered a piece of coal and said the venture capitalist had been naughty this year for opposing a living wage and calling its proponents “intellectually lazy,” according to a video circulated by Virginia Organizing.

Another Landes challenger

Ivy resident Lauren Thompson, 30, became the second Democrat to seek the nomination to run against 12-termer Republican Delegate Steve Landes, 59, whose 25th District, mainly in Augusta and Rockingham counties, includes a swipe of western Albemarle. Thompson, a Navy veteran, faces Augusta activist Jenni Kitchen, 37, for the Dem nod.

By the numbers

Housing affordability

The folks at the Virginia Public Access Project are always crunching the numbers, and last week they published how much of your take-home pay goes to housing, depending on where you live.

While Charlottesville may seem like one of the most expensive markets in the state, in Emporia City, 32.7 percent of median household income goes for housing, compared to nearly 25 percent in Charlottesville and 20.14 percent in Albemarle County. Highland County is the cheapest place to live, taking only an 11.6 percent bite out of paychecks, according to VPAP.

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