Deal struck on driver’s licenses for drug offenders

Sanctions for most to end; penalties remain for trafficking


THE GROUP OF lawmakers working since January to reconcile House and Senate versions of a bill to repeal what has been called a remnant of the war on drugs reached an agreement Tuesday, moving the bill closer to the governor’s desk.

Under the conference committee report, the bill would end the automatic suspension of driver’s licenses for drug offenders whose crimes had nothing to do with operating a motor vehicle, “a policy which law enforcement and public interest groups roundly criticized as a major contributor to high recidivism rates,” Rep. William Straus’s office said in a statement.

The conference committee — which included Reps. Straus, John Fernandes and Brad Hill, and Sens. Thomas McGee, Harriette Chandler and Bruce Tarr — opted to keep language sponsored by members of the House Republican caucus that preserves automatic license suspensions for those convicted of trafficking in illegal drugs aside from marijuana.

Gov. Charlie Baker told reporters at an event in Roxbury that he wants to look at the bill’s details but looks forward to signing it.

The conference report would require the registrar of motor vehicles to reinstate the licenses of drug offenders whose licenses were previously suspended and repeal the $500 fee for drug offenders to have their licenses reinstated.

In a speech on the House floor in January, Rep. Evandro Carvalho, a Dorchester Democrat and former assistant district attorney, called the license suspension law “one of the biggest challenges to re-entry that non-violent drug offenders face in our state.”

The bill was approved unanimously by the Senate in September and then by a unanimous vote of the House in January.

Conference committee reports are usually approved overwhelmingly.

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It’s the second major policy bill to emerge from a conference committee in a week. Gov. Charlie Baker on Monday signed an omnibus law to address the scourge of opioid abuse after a conference committee agree to details of that legislation last Tuesday.

Solar energy and public records law reform bills approved by the House and Senate remain before conference committee awaiting compromise.