Bill pulling dropouts' licenses advances to S.C. Senate

COLUMBIA --- A bill that would prevent teens who drop out of school from getting a driver's license is heading to the Senate floor after a Senate panel approved it Tuesday.

 

The bill, H. 3645, allows students to obtain a hardship waiver or launch an appeal if their license is yanked after seven unexcused absences. Eighteen-year-olds would not be affected.

Sponsor Rep. Tom Young, R-Aiken, told a special Senate Finance subcommittee that he spoke with high schoolers in Aiken County and was told the premise of his proposal offered students an incentive to stay in school.

"I have asked kids in the high schools in Aiken County, especially ones in 11th and 12th grade, 'Think about those who were sitting with you in the 9th grade. How many of you can identify somebody who's not here today?' " Young said. "Every single one of them raised their hands."

The legislation, which other lawmakers have introduced before, drew criticism from some House members earlier this month who said the proposal overlooked the root causes of truancy.

Young pointed to data that show nearly 80 percent of dropouts occur in 9th and 10th grade, and that his bill aims to "get them over the hump" into 11th grade.

The Office of Motor Vehicles Hearings would determine hardship waivers, and appeals would be sent to the Administrative Law Court, a quasi-judicial agency within the executive branch.

Jana Shealy, the clerk of the Administrative Law Court, said the expected new cases would be "a tremendous burden."

She said the current caseload is about 6,500 a year, and that Young's bill would increase it by 300-400 cases. The $150 filing fee per case would amount to $45,000- $60,000 in additional revenue, she said, offsetting some of the added costs. But that would leave about $90,000 in new expenses associated with adding a hearing officer.

Sen. Darrell Jackson, D-Hopkins, said Young's proposal would not go into effect until August 2011, which would give lawmakers time to set aside money.