Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

An overhaul of the license suspension process may be on the horizon for Ohio drivers

Bureau of Motor Vehicles, Gahanna, Ohio
Dan Konik
Statehouse News Bureau
Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles office, Gahanna, Ohio

A person's driver's license can be suspended for a whole host of reasons in Ohio and Sen. Catherine Ingram (D-Cincinnati) knows the headache that can result.

Years ago, Ingram owned a car that she wasn’t regularly driving, that she didn’t hold insurance on—until one day, without warning, she got a notice that her driver’s license was suspended. Her son has been in a similar position, too.

“The reinstatement was almost $500. I mean, that's crazy,” Ingram said in a March interview.

Current legal reasons for lost licenses include everything from causing significant property damage to alcohol and drug offenses to failure to owing a court debt. Ingram said the particular insurance provision she was hit with no longer exists, but she believes the system needs a makeover. That's why she joined Sen. Bill Blessing (R-Colerain Township) in introducing Senate Bill 37 last year.

SB 37 would eliminate certain circumstances in which drivers lose their licenses and would also create more leniency on the path to getting it back. Under the legislative text, pulling a license could no longer be a possible penalty for drug offenses, school truancy, or court fines, among other provisions.

In a March interview, Blessing said in some cases, suspension is warranted. But he said the current system has the potential to create a vicious cycle.

“These people are being punished, but you're also taking away their ability to drive, which is like the number one key thing that most people need to have in place in order to make a living,” Blessing said. “So how does that make sense?”

The bill's backers argue the current system is often hitting low-income Ohioans disproportionately, in both urban and rural communities.

“You cannot hold people hostage,” Ingram said.

State lawmakers have tweaked the law surrounding license suspensions before, and Blessing proposed this same bill last legislative session. It didn't go anywhere.

Some child maintenance agencies argue pulling a person’s license offers a powerful tool to force payments.

The Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association opposes the legislation, too. Executive Director Lou Tobin said the bill is inflexible.

“I can envision circumstances where somebody with, in the throes of drug addiction, who has a history of drug and drug related convictions, would be a danger to others on the road, and the judge would like to suspend their driver's license for a while, and this bill would prohibit that,” he said.

But the list of proponents of the bill is long and bipartisan.

“I think people are tired of the bickering. I think they just want to see legislators getting along and doing what they expect us to do: passing good legislation for the benefit of all,” Blessing said.

SB 37 has had several hearings in the Senate judiciary committee, but it still needs to clear both chambers and the governor’s desk before December to become law.

Blessing says even on that tight timeline, he thinks they can do it. If it doesn’t, the clock resets in January, meaning they would have to start from square one, and Ohioans navigating reinstatement will have to continue to make do.

Sarah Donaldson covers government, policy, politics and elections for the Ohio Public Radio and Television Statehouse News Bureau. Contact her at