After eight years of what effectively amounts to the state of Michigan issuing heavy-handed penalties to motorists for relatively minor infractions as a means of shoring up the state’s budget, lawmakers in the state Legislature have unanimously voted to do away with some of the state’s so-called “driver responsibility fees” that are levied for accumulating a certain number of points on a driver’s record or committing certain specified offenses. We don’t get to say this often enough, but legislators of both parties did right by Michigan motorists in their effort to repeal several of the fees, which we see as just another over-bearing way the state was reaching into the pockets of residents to get its fiscal situation in order without really addressing the budget problems it was facing at the time of the fees’ enactment. Now that both chambers have passed different versions of the legislation, it’s time for the state Senate to act and get rid of some of these fees once and for all — and we’re confident they’ll do so.
Senate Bill (SB) 166, introduced by state Sen. Bruce Caswell (R-Fawn River), received the blessing of the state House of Representatives on Thursday, Nov. 10.
State Reps. Lisa Brown (D-West Bloomfield, Commerce, Wolverine Lake), Hugh Crawford (R-Walled Lake, Wixom), Gail Haines (R-Waterford, West Bloomfield), Eileen Kowall (R-Highland, White Lake), Chuck Moss (R-Orchard Lake), and Bill Rogers (R-Milford) all voted in favor of the legislation.
When SB 166 cleared the upper chamber in June, state Sens. Mike Kowall (R-Commerce, Highland, Milford, Walled Lake, Wixom, Wolverine Lake, White Lake, Orchard Lake, West Bloomfield) and David Robertson (R-Waterford) both voted for it.
The two chambers passed different versions of the bill, which now must have the conflicting details ironed out.
Under the bill, effective Oct. 1, 2012, the following driver responsibility fees would be eliminated:
• The $150 per-year fee levied for two consecutive years for operating a motor vehicle with an expired license and for operating without a valid license, having more than one license, or failing to surrender licenses from other states as is required by the Michigan Vehicle Code; and
• The $200 per-year fee that’s charged for two consecutive years for a civil infraction of failing to have mandatory motor vehicle insurance coverage, and violations for failure to provide proof of insurance or knowingly providing false evidence of insurance.
According to Rogers, the state is only collecting 56 percent of the driver responsibility fees annually. As a result of the legislation, the state budget would take a hit of about $23.6 million annually based on first-year assessment data for the fees in the 2010 calendar year, according to state Senate fiscal analysts.
That’s not an easy pill to swallow for a state that still is plagued by economic uncertainty. Difficult cuts have been made, and we suspect this will be no different, but regardless, it’s the right thing to do.
Michigan drivers — many of whom are already strapped for cash as it is — simply can’t afford to pay the fee, which we view as a way the state, intentionally or not, added insult to injury by double-charging motorists who were already hit with the cost of a traffic ticket for their relatively minor infraction. That contributes to the driver responsibility fees’ woeful collection rate that Rogers cited — slightly more than half. And Robertson cited that as a reason why the fees are “not good public policy.”
What’s more is that lawmakers of both parties rightly took a scalpel to the driver responsibility fees rather than an ax. Many of the fines charged for two consecutive years for the most serious offenses — ranging from $500 to $1,000 per year for crimes like vehicular manslaughter, negligent homicide, operating while intoxicated, fleeing or eluding a police officer, and a moving violation or reckless driving that causes serious injury or death — are, at this point, slated to remain within Michigan Vehicle Code. And they should.
The driver responsibility fees were enacted at a time when state lawmakers were still burning the midnight oil during the tail-end of the state’s fiscal year, when legislators couldn’t muster up the guts to make the difficult choices needed to bring the state’s budget in order. This group of legislators, Republicans and Democrats alike with this particular measure, are working to clean up the mess created and left during that era.
And now that lawmakers have unanimously expressed their will to do away with some of the driver responsibility fees, we urge the state Senate to act quickly to scrap the overly punitive fines for what are, in the grand scope of things, relatively minor traffic violations.