Although the Pennsylvania Senate has already recessed for the winter while the state House looks to do so next week, State Rep. Jake Wheatley (D-Allegheny) has introduced a bill that will allow first-time drug offenders the ability to travel, similar to the allowances granted to first-time DUI offenders.
Wheatley’s legislation – Pennsylvania House Bill 1916 – would amend the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statues and allow for “occupational limited use” travel for certain first-time offenders.
"Current law allows first-time DUI offenders to obtain an occupational limited driver's license, often called a 'bread and butter license,' giving them the ability to support their families and begin to rebuild their lives,” Wheatley said via a statement released by his office. “This opportunity is not currently available to first-time drug offenders, but it is in society's interest to equalize this situation. I believe that's why this bill has bipartisan support, as it has in the past.
"At a time when we have passed other reforms to reduce our prison population, this measure of fairness would be a common-sense addition to those efforts."
Wheatley, co-chair of the Pennsylvania Hunger Caucus and member of the appropriations committee, said that, under HB 1916, a first-time drug offender would have to serve 60 days of his or her license suspension to qualify for the limited license, the same as first-time DUI offenders do now.
HB 1916 has been referred to the House Transportation Committee on December 18, and will most likely be heard during the transportation committee’s first hearing in January 2014.
Of note, HB 1916 adds particular language spelling out which first-time offenders can qualify for such a license.
“An individual who has been convicted of an offense under section 3802 (relating to driving under influence of alcohol or controlled substance) and does not have a prior offense as defined in section 3806(a) (relating to prior offenses,” read the additional language. “[Or] an individual whose operating privilege has been suspended under section 1532(c) for a conviction of an offense involving the possession, sale, delivery, offering for sale, holding for sale or giving away of any controlled substance under the laws of the United States, this Commonwealth or any other state and does not have a prior offense.
“For purposes of this paragraph, any conviction under any Federal or state law relating to any controlled substance or other drug shall constitute a prior offense if it related to the type of conduct against which a subsequent offense is directed.”
Wheatley, whose district includes a great portion of Pittsburgh, further outlined in a memo Wheatley circulated amongst House peers the reasoning of and purpose for HB 1916.
“Occupational Limited Licenses allow drivers with suspended licenses to drive for a limited set of purposes under significant restrictions. For instance, OLL drivers may drive when it is necessary to their occupation, work, trade, medical treatment, or study. This helps offenders continue working, studying, etc. while they serve their sentences, allowing them to improve their circumstances and make positive life choices in an effort to avoid recidivism,” read a portion of Wheatley’s memo. “Without this legislation, offenders risk loss of income – impairing their ability to make restitution and continue supporting themselves, being forced to discontinue their education, or having to forego medical services. It is important to balance the need to impose justice and instill in offenders the gravity of their offenses with the need to avoid removing their tools for rehabilitation and future success.
“This legislation would bring license suspensions for driving under the influence of controlled substances in line with driving under the influence of alcohol,” Wheatley continued in his memo. “Currently, drivers without any prior offenses who are convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol can apply for an Occupational Limited License after 60 days of serving their suspension, whereas drivers without any prior offenses who are convicted of driving under the influence of controlled substances must serve out their entire suspension for that portion of a compounded suspension before applying for an Occupational Limited License.”