Long road to reinstatement ahead for some with revoked Tennessee licenses

Some drivers with revoked licenses may be able to apply for reinstatement. (Courtesy: WTVC)

Nearly 150,000 Tennesseans who had their license revoked by the state for failure to pay court debt now have the chance to have it reinstated.

Last week, a federal court judge ruled the state's 2012 statute unconstitutional.

Theresa Lau was one of the attorneys with the National Center for Law and Economic Justice who fought for that ruling.

"It's fundamentally unfair to take away somebody's right to drive because they failed to pay court debt," Lau told NewsChannel 9 over the phone.

Nicholas Johnson says he knows this first hand.

Johnson says years ago, a police officer wrote down his registration wrong after a car accident.

After being deployed to Iraq, Johnson returned to find the state had revoked his license for not paying fees associated with the accident.

Johnson had piles of fees "stacking up" and no way to pay them.

"It felt like I was set up for failure. I wasn't able to get around and provide for my family," Johnson told NewsChannel 9.

Ultimately, he found a job that didn't require a license.

" I was really blessed with that. If it wasn't for that i'd still be in an endless pit it seems like," Johnson said.

His boss was the first to tell him of the judge's ruling.

After reading the decision, Johnson thought, "maybe this is God's way of working this out for me. I'm praying that it applies to me and i'm able to finally drive again."

Attorney Theresa Lau says "the state interest was really just to collect money, to get money back from individuals who hadn't paid whatever fines, fees, and court costs that they owed."

The ruling doesn't erase the money Johnson or anyone else with a revoked license owes the state.

Lau says the state just "has to find another way to collect that debt."

Johnson says he's just excited by the possibility of a green light to get behind the wheel to help pay off what he owes.

"Not to have that stress in my life would be like hitting the lottery for me," Johnson said.

If you or someone you know is trying to get their license reinstated, you can call the state's hotline at 1-866-903-7357.

You can also reach out to the National Center for Law and Economic Justice with questions.

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