defaulting

Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R) has signed into law a bill that will no longer take work licenses from Texas residents for defaulting on their student loans.

In a tweet posted late last week, Gov. Abbott announced he would be signing Senate Bill 37, which prohibits the state from denying, suspending, or revoking any professional work license to residents who have defaulted on student loans — which likely were taken on in order to do the jobs that required such a license in the first place.

“[SB 37] protects your right to earn a living,” Abbott said, as he signed the bill, making it effective immediately. “It’s now law.”

The bill was a bipartisan effort sponsored by seven members of the Texas Senate and 27 members of the Texas House of Representatives, and co-sponsors included 15 Democrats and 19 Republicans. Members of both chambers were overwhelmingly supportive of the bill, which received 146 “yea” votes in the House and zero “no” votes, and passed the state senate with unanimous support.

According to a 2017 Texas Tribune investigation, thousands of Texans who had defaulted on student loans were at risk of losing their professional licenses each year. And in past years, several hundred nurses and teachers were unable to renew their licenses for having defaulted on the loans they took on to get the education required for those jobs.

Public school teacher Roderick Scott Jr. told the Tribune that the state’s laws were counter-productive — if his punishment for defaulting on student debt was losing his work license, then losing his job and being unable to work would make it even harder for him to pay off his student debt.

“You do understand that, basically, I have been fired because you won’t allow [the Texas Education Agency] to renew my certification,” he remembers telling his loan collector on the phone that day. Now, “you’re going to ‘fix things’ so that I can’t pay anything?”

“I was like, ‘Oh my, you’re crazy,’” Scott said.

The law preventing professionals from obtaining work licenses for defaulting on student debt dates back to 1989, according to the Tribune. Lawmakers intended for the measure to be “a powerful incentive for a person to stay current on his payments.” This means Gov. Abbott’s signature on SB 37 puts an end to a 30-year practice of denying professionals the licenses they need to work for being late on student loan payments.

It isn’t just working-class Texans who are struggling with student debt. As Grit Post has previously reported, several dozen members of Congress still have tens of thousands — even hundreds of thousands — in student debt that they have yet to pay off, despite making six-figure salaries.

Tom Cahill is a contributor for Grit Post who covers political and economic news. He lives in Bend, Oregon. Send him an email at tom DOT v DOT cahill AT gmail DOT com.

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