WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — More than 200,000 people in Kansas have suspended driver’s licenses. That’s double what it was 15 years ago. It can happen for many reasons, including unpaid tickets, child support or taxes, lack of car insurance, or DUI.

Once a driver loses their license, it can be difficult to get it back. In Wichita, more than 23,000 people have had their suspensions for ten years or longer.

But the City of Wichita has started a program to help people start driving again. The thought process is that people who drive can get to work and earn a living. People who cannot make a living may fall into the criminal justice system.

“They lose their job because they can’t get to work which then causes them to spiral into other decisions,” Aaron Breitenbach, Sedgwick County District Attorney’s Office, told Council members last year.

After hearing the numbers, the Council approved a contract with Kansas Legal Services (KLS) to start the Wichita Area Restoration Program (WARP). On Tuesday, KLS announced the director of the program is Andi Elmore.

WARP will work directly with drivers who need help getting driving privileges restored. This includes:

  • Investigating the driving record
  • Putting together a plan for restoration
  • Meeting regularly with the driver
  • Following up to assure the driving privileges are restored

While the program is still developing, Elmore says people can apply by calling 1-800-723-6953 or going online to KansasLegalServices.org.

WARP will provide roadmaps for people to know how to get their licenses back, and it will assist them with following the roadmap.

“I do have an office at City Hall on the third floor for meetings with participants of the program to review cases, execute plans or ‘roadmaps’ for each person for the best opportunity at successful restoration of driving privileges,” Elmore said.

The service is free, but some people may have outstanding court fees and fines or reinstatement fees with the Kansas Department of Revenue.

“We have so many people that spiral just off of a simple ticket, and they have so many fines,” Wichita City Council Member Brandon Johnson said during the December meeting where the Council approved WARP.

The City of Wichita says 25% of the state’s driver’s license suspensions are in Sedgwick County, and 70% are for failing to meet financial obligations.

“We will help determine what fees, fines, and costs need to be paid to whom by the participant,” Elmore said. “If a financial need exists requiring assistance with any pending fees and fines, we can address those on an individual basis.”

Nathan Emmorey, Wichita Municipal Court administrator, told the Council that 66% of the people who have suspensions through the court owe between $500 and $1,000. But he said some, almost 4%, owe more than $5,000.

To get the amount reduced, a person must demonstrate a “manifest hardship.” Emmorey said that is difficult to define and is ultimately decided by a judge. He said 95% of people who file get some manner of relief. If a person cannot pay the remainder of the cost, the municipal court lets them perform community service.

Emmorey said WARP will be able to help people with that part of the process.

KSN News asked Elmore if people outside Wichita city limits can use the program.

“If the person has a pending in case Wichita Municipal Court to initiate the intake with KLS, the individual qualifies for WARP no matter where the person resides,” she said. “Some will have more than one case in more than one court but must have that qualifier in Wichita Municipal Court to begin. We will help each participant with resolution of all pending Kansas license issues.”

Elmore will head WARP and be assisted by a paralegal. KLS will supervise them. The City of Wichita will pay KLS $157,561 for the first year. Because KLS is a nonprofit organization, it can accept donations and apply for grants to help fund WARP.

The City will review the plan after six months. If WARP is successful, the Council hopes it may eventually expand to include other issues such as expungements.