Georgia’s House Bill 926 will help address court-related driver’s license suspensions
Reason Foundation


Georgia’s House Bill 926 will help address court-related driver’s license suspensions

Judge Gary Jackson of the Atlanta Municipal Court described failure to appear license reinstatement as “the number one administrative challenge we have in our court.”

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed House Bill 926, also known as the Second Chance Workforce Bill, into law on May 2, making it easier for Georgians to restore their driver’s licenses following a missed traffic court appearance. This reform will help ensure that people continue to have the ability to get to work, take their children to school, and appear at future court dates.

The vast majority of Georgians (75%) drive themselves to work. Without a driver’s license, they are at risk of losing their job and their income. Many employers even require a valid driver’s license before hiring. These conditions have made having a driver’s license an increasingly necessary tool to rise out of poverty and unemployment, so the practice of punitive license suspension undermines job opportunities.

In 35 states, failure to appear (FTA) at a court date can result in a driver’s license suspension. Missing a traffic court date in Georgia is especially nontrivial because, unlike most states, all traffic violations in Georgia are considered misdemeanor offenses rather than civil infractions.

House Bill 926 automatically reinstates driver’s licenses when a person who has missed a court appearance contacts the court or reschedules another hearing. If a person fails to appear twice, their license will be reinstated following their next court appearance. This approach preserves license suspension as a tool for ensuring court attendance while rewarding people who take steps toward resolving their cases.

Individuals with suspended licenses often take the risk of driving because they lack alternative means of transportation. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, approximately 75% of those with suspended licenses choose to drive despite the consequences.

Driving with a suspended license in Georgia carries criminal penalties, including potential jail time and fines. A first offense is classified as a misdemeanor and can lead to imprisonment for two to 12 days and a fine ranging from $500 to $1000. Repeat offenses can result in felony charges, imprisonment of up to 5 years, and a fine of up to $5,000.

Historically, FTA suspensions in Georgia were automatic and would remain in place until the adjudication of the case and payment of all fines. In 2022, legislative reforms granted judges discretion to reinstate driver’s licenses, typically at a person’s next court appearance. This was a positive step, but reliance on judicial discretion has resulted in inconsistent application across different courts and, in some cases, months-long backlogs and delays.

In public testimony on House Bill 926, Judge Gary Jackson of the Atlanta Municipal Court described FTA license reinstatement as “the number one administrative challenge we have in our court.” The Atlanta Municipal Court alone processes approximately 40,000 FTA cases a year.

Reason Foundation was involved in conversations with lawmakers, judges, municipal court clerks, and other key stakeholders across the state to identify potential solutions, and those early conversations helped form House Bill 926.

People who have had their license suspended will also need to pay a reinstatement fee of about $100 to the Georgia Department of Drivers Services. Judges may lift a failure to appear suspension and waive fines and fees at any time. For individuals unable to afford the $100 reinstatement fee, House Bill 926 also strengthens Georgia’s “pauper’s affidavit” to provide a 100% waiver for reinstatement fees to individuals in severe poverty. Before House Bill 926, successfully filing a pauper’s affidavit would result in a 50% reinstatement fee reduction.

In his testimony, Judge Jackson praised House Bill 926, noting that “of all the solutions suggested to deal with this FTA problem, this is by far the best solution. It gives everybody a second chance.”

State Rep. Matt Reeves (R-Duluth), one of the bill’s sponsors, said, “In Atlanta and across Georgia, if you lose your driver’s license, you are in danger of losing your ability to work. The Second Chance Workforce bill keeps large numbers of Georgians working and providing for themselves and their families.”

The reforms in House Bill 926 demonstrate Georgia lawmakers’ continued commitment to mitigating the collateral damage from unnecessary driver’s license suspensions. The legislation maintains the ability of courts to sanction individuals who willfully fail to comply with the traffic court process while rewarding those who take concrete steps toward compliance. Other states that allow driver’s license suspensions for failure to appear should look to Georgia as a model for balanced reform.