ORANGE PARK – The Clay County Clerk of the Circuit Court’s office will offer drivers a chance to close the gap between the burden of a suspended license and a reasonable ability to pay the fine with its Operation Green Light program on Oct. 12.
The one-day-only event will allow drivers who’ve had their suspended licenses for unpaid tickets a chance to have it reinstated by setting up a payment schedule. As an added incentive, many late and collection fees will be waved that day, according to county clerk Tara Green and county compliance supervisor Stephanie Wright.
“We are reaching out to people who are stuck in a vicious cycle,” Wright said. “Those are the big ones. We want to get people back on the road. That way we can get them on a payment plan and back to work without any worries. We truly want to get it cleared up. We want to reach out to people who think they are too far in the hole (to pay).”
The statewide program was created by the state’s clerks in 2015, and it quickly was implemented in Clay County. During the first year, 314 cases were paid in full in the county, while 26 suspended licenses were reinstated and another 154 were set up to be reinstated, Green said.
“In certain circumstances, the flexibility of removing the debt, especially by the collectors, is a big relief,” Green said. “Hopefully we’ll have a lot of people walk out of here with a valid driver’s license.”
Collection fees can be as much as 25% of an outstanding judgment, Green said.
Drivers whose licenses have been suspended for non-payment of child support aren’t eligible for the program. Also, Operation Green Light is only available at the clerk’s Orange Park Branch at 1478 Park Ave. from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Oct. 12. Sixty of the state’s 67 counties are participating, so Clay County may be able to help a driver work out a plan with another county.
Driving with a suspended license is a serious offense. There were 48 arrests in September by the Clay County Sheriff’s Office for residents driving without a valid license. Florida law allows for a maximum penalty of a 60-day jail sentence and a $500 fine for a first offense. A third offense can be charged as a felony with up to five years in prison.
According to FreeAdvice Legal, there are as many as 4.6 million people currently with a suspended license in Florida.
What makes suspended licenses so complex is the need by a driver to earn money by working. That often means driving – illegally – to a job.
“Our goal is to get it paid off and have everyone with a current license,” Green said. “While our goal is to not suspend a license, we have a statutory responsibility to collect the fines. If they’re willing to do their part by setting up a plan and sticking to it, we will get them back on the road.”
Seven clerks and a couple supervisors are scheduled to work on Saturday, and the office doesn’t accept appointments.