Repeal of Previous State Law Ends ‘Modern-Day Debtors’ Prison’ in New Jersey
Legislation Assembly Majority Leader Louis D. Greenwald and Assembly Democrats Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Gary S. Schaer, Raj Mukherji, Jamel Holley, Gabriela Mosquera, Elizabeth Muoio, Shavonda Sumter and Vince Mazzeo sponsored to rescind a state law that jeopardized the careers of professionals who have overwhelming student debt was signed by the governor on Friday.
“If someone earned a license to practice a profession, their performance should be the sole factor that affects their ability to retain that license,” said Greenwald (D-Camden/Burlington). “Using a professional license as a bargaining chip when someone cannot pay his or her student loans is not only wrong but nonsensical. There is no logic in removing a borrower’s ability to pay back a loan as a punishment for inability to pay in the first place.”
The new law (A-2926) repeals sections of state law that allowed for the suspension of licenses issued by the Division of Consumer Affairs if a person failed to repay his or her student loans. The new law also repeals a similar provision that allowed the Supreme Court of New Jersey to suspend attorneys’ licenses for failure to repay student loans.
The Division of Consumer Affairs in the New Jersey Department of Law and Public Safety regulates various professions and occupations in an effort to protect the public. Such professions and occupations include, but are not limited to: architecture, cosmetology, dentistry, medicine, nursing, pharmacy, social work and veterinary medicine.
“Licensed professionals are often people an entire community depends on, like doctors, dentists, nurses and home health aides,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “Taking away their licenses doesn’t just hurt them. It hurts all the people who need them to provide vital services.”
“Suspending a professional’s license takes away that person’s ability to find gainful employment, thus making it impossible to repay the debt,” said Schaer (D-Bergen/Passaic). “Essentially, it’s a 21st-century debtors’ prison.”
“If a person hasn’t committed an offense that raises concerns about his or her ability to do the job in a satisfactory manner, there’s no reasonable cause for license suspension,” said Mukherji (D-Hudson). “Nonpayment of student loans should not prohibit someone from working.”
“Telling people they can’t work because they can’t pay their bills is just illogical,” said Holley (D-Union). “Suspending professional licenses simply is not the right way to go about recouping student loans.”
“Suspending licenses only prevents people in need of certain services from having access to qualified professionals in their community,” said Mosquera (D-Camden/Gloucester). “That doesn’t help the lender get their money back.”
“For a cosmetologist or a dental hygienist or a home health aide – many of whom are low-income women already struggling to make ends meet – suspending the license they need in order to work is like taking away a lifeline,” said Muoio (D-Mercer/Hunterdon). “A borrower certainly has a responsibility to repay the money, but it’s unjust to use his or her license as collateral.”
“When someone fails to pay his or her student loans, making it harder for them to find a job in their field is just counterproductive,” said Sumter (D-Bergen/Passaic). “Stripping someone of their ability to be employed is not a fair consequence.”
“Making it impossible for someone to work doesn’t benefit either party. The borrower will be unemployed, and the lender still won’t get its money back,” said Mazzeo (D-Atlantic). “Suspending professional licenses is just an unreasonable punishment.”
The measure gained unanimous approval from both houses of the legislature before being signed into law by the governor.