Drivers in Orange, Osceola can get help restoring suspended licenses next week

Monivette Cordeiro, Orlando Sentinel
·3 min read

Drivers in Orange and Osceola counties can get help next week restoring suspended licenses and saving on overdue traffic tickets and court fines through Operation Green Light.

From Monday through Thursday, the Orange County Clerk of Courts office will help people pay their outstanding court costs by waiving the 25% collections surcharge. The event will only be available virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Orange County Clerk Tiffany Moore Russell said.

“Many of us through out the state are trying to minimize unnecessary traffic to the courthouse,” she said. “... I think people will take advantage of it because they don’t have to physically come to the courthouse. They don’t have to leave their house or take off work.”

Drivers who had their licenses suspended for driving under the influence or failing to pay child support are not eligible, Russell said.

The Osceola County Clerk of Court will be waiving a 40% collections surcharge during its Operation Green Light from Monday through Nov. 20. People can participate virtually or go to the Osceola County Courthouse in Kissimmee between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.

“Despite the many challenges Clerk’s Offices have faced this year, I am excited to bring back this event,” Osceola Clerk Armando Ramírez said in a statement. “This initiative has been extremely successful in helping many.”

Nearly 2 million out of Florida’s 16.6 million drivers had their licenses suspended because of unpaid fines and fees — not for unsafe driving, according to a December 2019 study from the Fines and Fees Justice Center, which advocates against suspensions for unpaid fines and fees.

The state can suspend your driver’s license for having unpaid traffic tickets, toll violations and DUIs. It can also be suspended for non-traffic issues, like missing a court date, overdue court-imposed fines and fees for misdemeanor and felony convictions, and failing to pay child support.

Court debt that is over 90 days late can be referred to private collection agencies that can charge up to 40% of the amount owed.

Operation Green Light is a way for clerks across Florida to recall court debt from collections and waive those surcharges, but it doesn’t nix late fees, said Ashley Thomas, Florida state director for the Fines and Fees Justice Center.

While some Florida clerks offer payment plans for those who can’t afford to pay their court debt, others require the full amount paid before reinstating a suspended license, Thomas said.

Clerks in Orange and Osceola both offer payment plans. Orange also requires a down payment for its plan, as well as reinstatement fees.

“Let’s say you owe a lot of money — as long as you start a payment plan, you can get your license back and still be making payments,” Russell said.

Operation Green Light, while helpful, is not a “solution” for people whose licenses are suspended while struggling financially because of unemployment caused by the pandemic and court debt, Thomas said.

“It’s really just putting a Band-Aid on a very large problem that could be easily solved,” Thomas said. “We just need to stop suspending driver’s licenses. We need to get people back to work. I’m glad it’s helping folks who can pay their fines and fees but for the 40% collection fee. Good for them, but for so many people, that’s still out of reach.”

Last year, Operation Green Light helped 97 people restore their suspended licenses in Orange and put 8,758 cases on payment plans, Russell said.

“We hope to take advantage of the virtual platform even beyond the pandemic,” she said. “We see that it’s a great value and a great tool for people.”

mcordeiro@orlandosentinel.com

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