(RJ Sangosti, Denver Post file)

Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke introduces federal bill to curb driver’s license suspensions for drug offenses

Just five days after announcing his longshot bid to unseat Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke introduced a bill that seeks to repeal a federal law encouraging states to suspend or revoke driver’s licenses of people convicted of drug offenses.

The bipartisan Better Drive Act introduced Wednesday would repeal Section 159 of Title 23 in the United States Code, which reduces states’ highway funding by 8 percent per year if they don’t automatically suspended the licenses of those convicted of drug offenses or violations of the Controlled Substances Act.

“(The Better Drive Act) is going to ensure that American who have drug convictions can — after paying the price, doing the time, going through the legal process — can get back on their feet, find a job, pursue their education, be productive members of society,” O’Rourke said in a YouTube video posted on Wednesday.

The suspensions, which often last at least six months, are piled on top of existing penalties for those convicted of non-violent drug offenses, he said.

“In many instances we find people going back and making mistakes, and doing things they’re going to regret, because they don’t have other options,” he said. “This is a common-sense, bipartisan reform of part of the failed War on Drugs.”

O’Rourke introduced the bill with Rep. Justin Amash, R-Michigan; Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-New York; Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., R-Wisconsin; Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-New York; and Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah.

While the majority of states have opted out under a provision that requires written certification from the Governor or state legislative action, 12 states and Washington, D.C., continue to enforce the drug law, suspending more than 191,000 licenses annually for drug offenses not related to driving, according to the Prison Policy Initiative, an organization that documents the effects of mass incarceration.

Virginia, one of those 12 states, will opt out starting July 1, 2017, following a newly signed law to remove the suspension provision, said Justin Strekal, political director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, a marijuana advocacy group that supported the state bill.

Click here to read the bill text and O’Rourke’s statement on the Better Drive Act on Medium