ANNAPOLIS – Students between the ages of 15 and 17 who are consistently truant could have their driver’s licenses suspended under a bill before a Senate committee.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Michael J. Collins, D-Baltimore County, would require suspension of licenses for students whose unexcused absences reached six percent, or about 10.8 days, of the school year. Depending on the student’s attendance record, that could mean a 30- to 180-day suspension of driving privileges.
“Why not use the powerful external incentive of suspending a student’s driver’s license to encourage improved attendance and hopefully improved performance in school?” Collins asked Tuesday in his testimony before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.
Statewide attendance statistics show that 13.6 percent of Maryland students missed more than 20 days of school in 1994, Collins said. The percentage climbed to 14.7 in 1995, he said.
Sen. Richard Colburn, R-Dorchester, said suspending driver’s licenses would have a greater impact on students than punishment from parents and school officials.
“Kids cherish their driver’s licenses,” Colburn said. “When I was a kid, this would have been a steep penalty to pay.”
But Sen. Edward Middlebrooks, R-Anne Arundel, was concerned that the bill would be harmful in poorer schools with high drop- out rates.
“Once they turn 16, students will just say, `Forget it, I’m dropping out,’ and walk away if they know they could lose their licenses,” Middlebrooks said.
Renee Spence, director of government relations for the Maryland State Department of Education, which opposes the legislation, agreed.
“It’s almost an incentive to drop out,” Spence said.
Spence said current law regarding truancy, under which parents may be fined or imprisoned, is adequate.
The Department of Education is also concerned that the bill does not provide for appeals, Spence said. “We question whether there is due process,” she said.
There are also worries about the cost of administering the license suspension program. Spence’s department estimated that each school system would spend an additional $5,500 annually in clerical costs, for a total increase statewide of $132,000 annually.
“Its goals are laudable but it would be an administrative nightmare for school systems,” said Sen. Delores G. Kelley, D- Baltimore. “We can’t expect schools to be our social workers.” Bruce Gartner, legislative liaison for the Motor Vehicle Administration, which would do the actual suspensions, estimated MVA would need two additional employees for each 5,000 license suspensions. According to Gartner, this could cost about $60,000 annually. -30-