New law makes license trouble for area woman

Sunday, November 12, 2006

By KYLE W. MORRISON

Southeast Missourian

Thirty-five years ago, Ella Jean Pleasant made a mistake.

She climbed into her car in Alexander County, Ill., and drove drunk. While on Highway 146, she collided head on with another vehicle and injured the driver. She was arrested and charged with driving while intoxicated.

After a night in jail, a fine and three years with a revoked license, Pleasant thought she had paid for her mistake.

She was wrong.

Thanks to a recent federal law, Pleasant, 57, of Jackson, has gone through numerous hoops in Illinois to renew her Missouri driver's license.

"It's worse than what it was 35 years ago when I got a DUI," she said.

But the state of Illinois says Pleasant did not follow the proper procedure to get her license renewed after it was revoked, something she denies.

On Sept. 30, 2005, a federal law went into effect requiring driver's license agencies to check on a driver's status in other states. If there are any open actions, such as unpaid fines, the department cannot issue a new license or renew one.

The goal of the Motor Carrier Safety Improvement Act is to ensure drivers aren't obtaining licenses in one state after being revoked in another. There is no statute of limitations on the law.

"It's requiring states to really put a premium on safety," said Missouri Department of Revenue spokeswoman Maura Browning.

That requirement has been a hardship on Pleasant's budget. She and her 34-year-old disabled son, who needs 24-hour care, both live off a $630 monthly Supplemental Security Income check from the government.

Since she found out in August that her Missouri license would not be renewed, she has had to pay $105 for an evaluation at an alcohol/drug treatment center, $100 to undergo 10 hours of remedial education classes, $50 to request a formal hearing, $90 in gasoline and $30 in long-distance telephone bills.

It has been especially frustrating for Pleasant, who says she became a born-again Christian 23 years ago, because she said she has had a clean driving record for decades.

"I feel like my life is being held for ransom," she said. "We can't make ends meet."

Part of the contention is that Pleasant claims that the driver's license revoked in 1971 was a Missouri one, not Illinois.

"I've never been a resident of Illinois," she said.

Illinois, however, says the license was from that state.Her driver's license number from 1971 matches a format used by Illinois, which used a letter and 11 digits, and not by Missouri, which used a letter and 16 digits.

Reinstating Pleasant's license will cost her $500, said Randy Nehrt, a spokesman for the Illinois secretary of state's office.

Admittedly, the fines now are higher than they were in 1971, Nehrt said. Also, parts of the process Pleasant has to go through to get her license in 2006 may not have been the same or even existed when she got her DWI.

"It probably would have been simpler then," Nehrt said.

Because she is going through the system now to obtain her license, Nehrt said, she has to do what is required now, as anyone else would have to do.

Browning said Pleasant's problem is not a frequent one but one that does occur, likely due to passing time and people's forgetfulness.

"That may be part of the problem: People don't understand that something they may have forgotten can affect their driving privileges today," she said.

Pleasant is waiting to find out when she can attend a hearing in Mount Vernon, Ill., to get her driving privileges back. Until that time, Browning said she could apply for a free one-year license in Missouri while sorting out her situation in Illinois.

That is little comfort to Pleasant.

"They don't realize what they put me through," she said. "They could care less."

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