Virginia GOP seeks revisions to bad-driver fees

| 8/30/2007

Virginia Republicans announced they will make significant revisions to the state’s controversial abusive driver fee laws during the upcoming session.

House Speaker William Howell, R-Stafford, and Senate Majority Leader Walter Stosch, R-Henrico, unveiled a plan to eliminate some traffic offenses that call for hefty fees, reduce others and apply the rules to out-of-state drivers.

With the November elections a little more than two months away, many Virginia lawmakers are rushing to address concerns from voters about the new “bad driver” fees. The fees are part of the state’s $1.1 billion long-term road plan that House lawmakers voted 85-15 to endorse and the Senate backed it on a 29-10 vote.

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.

The fees for violations made by in-state drivers are payable in three annual payments ranging from $250 to $1,000. They are expected to generate $65 million a year for transportation.

Nonresidents are immune from the penalties because Kaine pushed for changes to the bill to clarify the fees would be limited to in-state drivers. 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.

In an effort to appease Virginia drivers – and voters – Republican leaders want to remove the fees on certain offenses, such as failing to report an accident or driving an uninsured vehicle. Other offenses that now call for pricey fees would be reconsidered, The Associated Press reported.

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have called for a special session this year to address the fees. Those calls 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 AP. “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.

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

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor