Proposal would end Virginia bad-driver fees

| 8/13/2007

With an eye on the November elections, one Virginia state senator wants the new abusive driver fee laws thrown out.

Sen. Edward Houck, D-Spotsylvania, has asked that a bill be drafted to repeal the fees and provide refunds to those who paid their citations. He is expected to introduce the bill in the regular session that starts in January 2008 or in special session, if one is called.

The fees are part of the state’s long-term road-building plan that House lawmakers voted 85-15 to endorse and the Senate backed it on a 29-10 vote. Talk of repealing the bad driver fees has been a popular topic for many Democrats in the statehouse.

The GOP-authored transportation package was several years in the making when Gov. Tim Kaine signed it into law. Since the law took effect July 1, public outcry about the fines for certain driving violations has led many lawmakers to call for an end to them.

Houck said he would like to take back his vote but he knows it is something he cannot do. Instead, he wants lawmakers to right the wrong to Virginia drivers – and voters.

The fees for violations made by “bad drivers” are payable in three annual payments ranging from $300 to $1,000. They are expected to generate $65 million a year for transportation. They only apply to Virginia residents.

Nonresidents are immune from the penalties. That distinction led two district court judges to throw out the fees. Those rulings, which apply only to Henrico County and the city of Richmond, say it is illegal to apply the penalties solely to in-state drivers.

Advocates say the new fees are not intended to apply to basic speeding and traffic violations. But the wording in the bill leaves that door open under certain circumstances, The Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, VA, reported.

Calls to repeal the fees have been met with resistance from the Democratic governor. He said, however, that reimbursing certain car and truck drivers who pay abusive-driver fees is something that might be considered if the General Assembly amends the law next year.

“We might have the ability to do reimbursements,” Kaine recently told The Associated Press. “I’m not going to commit to that, but if there’s a decision made by the legislature, that’s one option they could consider.”

In the meantime, Kaine is asking for more time to study the effectiveness of the fees in reducing wrecks and dangerous driving.

Also on the agenda for the next session is including out-of-state drivers in the new fines.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Virginia in 2007, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor