WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – More than 200,000 people in Kansas have had their driver’s licenses suspended. That’s double what it was 15 years ago. It can happen for many reasons, including unpaid tickets, child support or taxes, lack of car insurance, or drunk driving.
Once a driver loses their license, it can be difficult to get it back. In Wichita, more than 23,000 people have been suspended for ten years or more.
But the city of Wichita has started a program to help people get back to driving. The thought process is that people who drive can get to work and make a living. People who cannot make a living can fall into the criminal justice system.
“They lose their jobs because they can’t get to work, which leads them to make other decisions,” Sedgwick County District Attorney’s Office Aaron Breitenbach told Council members last year.
After hearing the numbers, the Board approved a contract with Kansas Legal Services (KLS) to start the Wichita Area Restoration Program (WARP). On Tuesday, KLS announced that its program director is Andi Elmore.
WARP will work directly with drivers who need help restoring their driving privileges. This includes:
- Investigate your driving record
- Put together a plan for the restoration
- Meet regularly with the driver
- Follow to ensure that driving privileges are restored
While the program is still in development, Elmore says people can apply by calling 1-800-723-6953 or by going online to KansasLegalServices.org.
WARP will provide roadmaps for people to know how to get their licenses back and help them follow the roadmap.
“I have a third floor Town Hall office for meetings with program participants to review cases, execute plans or ‘roadmaps’ for each person for the best opportunity for successful restoration of driving privileges,” Elmore said.
The service is free, but some people may have outstanding court costs and fines or reinstatement fees with the Kansas Department of Revenue.
“We have so many people who are spiraling just off a simple ticket and have so many fines,” Wichita City Council member Brandon Johnson said during the December meeting where the council approved WARP.
The City of Wichita says that 25% of state driver’s license suspensions occur in Sedgwick County, and 70% are due to failure to meet financial obligations.
“We will help determine what fees, fines and costs must be paid to whom by the participant,” Elmore said. “If there is a financial need that requires assistance with any outstanding taxes and fines, we can address these on an individual basis.”
Nathan Emmorey, administrator of the Wichita Municipal Court, told the Council that 66% of people who have suspensions through the court owe between $500 and $1,000. But he said some, nearly 4%, owe more than $5,000.
To obtain the reduction of the amount, a person must demonstrate a “manifest hardship”. Emmorey said it’s hard to pin down and is ultimately decided by a judge. She said 95% of people who file get some kind of relief. If a person cannot pay the rest of the cost, the municipal court authorizes them to perform community service.
Emmorey said WARP will be able to help people with that part of the process.
KSN News asked Elmore if people outside the Wichita city limits could use the program.
“If the individual has a case pending in Wichita Municipal Court to initiate employment with KLS, the individual qualifies for WARP, regardless of where they reside,” he said. “Some will have more than one case in more than one court, but they need to have that qualification in Wichita Municipal Court to get started. We will help each participant resolve any pending Kansas licensing issues.
Elmore will direct WARP and will be assisted by a paralegal. KLS will supervise them. The City of Wichita will pay KLS $157,561 for the first year. Since KLS is a non-profit organization, it can accept donations and apply for grants to help fund WARP.
Council will review the plan after six months. If WARP is successful, the Council hopes it can eventually expand to include other issues such as elimination.