Anyone caught driving without a valid license in Wisconsin could lose their vehicle, under a bill being offered by a Republican state lawmaker.
The proposal from Representative Joe Sanfelippo (R-New Berlin) would require police to impound cars if a pulled over driver’s license is suspended, revoked, or if they have no license at all. In order to get the vehicle back, they would have to get their license reinstated and pay the impound fee. If the vehicle is owned by someone else, the owner would also have to pay a fine. Vehicles not claimed after more than 30 days following the end of the impoundment period could then be sold.
Sanfelippo said he hopes the bill will help end a cycle where people without a valid license are repeatedly caught behind the wheel. He believes there’s currently little motivation for them to stop the habitual behavior because the penalties, which amount to a fine, are too weak. Sanfelippo said throwing them in jail would be too severe, “but if we take away the very vehicle that they are using to break the law, I think that will make somebody think twice.”
Critics worry the bill could hurt low-income residents, who may not be able to afford the impound fees or get their license back because of fines they owe. Sanfelippo said his proposal would allow them to go before a judge to ask for more time. He also responded to concerns that some people drive without a licensing because it’s necessary to get to work. “We don’t carve out exceptions if somebody has a job or if somebody’s poor,” he said. “The law is the law and it’s very clear – if you want to drive a vehicle, you have to have a driver’s license to do so.”
Sanfelippo is also facing criticism from an organization which argues that he stands to benefit from the proposal. Scot Ross, of the liberal group One Wisconsin Now, notes that the lawmaker’s brother owns a taxi company in Milwaukee. He said “Sanfelippo is trying to steal the cars of poor people so that his $24 million taxicab empire can make even more money. Making a terrible bill even worse is that Sanfelippo stands to directly profit…It will be interesting to see if his Republican colleagues, who have done so much to support corruption and cronyism in state government, decide Sanfelippo’s scheme is too much for even them.”
In an interview with WRN, Sanfelippo questioned how it would benefit his family more than anyone else. “Anybody who doesn’t have a vehicle likely doesn’t have one because they haven’t paid fines or they don’t pay their bills, or they don’t have the money to do it. I don’t think they’re going to be riding a taxi cab.”
The bill is currently being circulated for co-sponsors at the Capitol.
UPDATE: This story was updated to clarify the length of time required before police can sell vehicles held in impound.