New legislation signed to accelerate eliminating Driver Responsibility Fees

Editor’s Note: These recent bills are a continuation of work done by 62-B District Court (Kentwood) Judge William Kelly and former state Rep. Joe Haveman to eliminate the Driver Responsibility Fees, as reported in the Grand Rapids Legal News for Oct. 19, 2016.

Driver Responsibility Fees will be eliminated sooner and a new program will assist individuals who have entered into payment plans as well as provide for possible license reinstatement under legislation signed by Gov. Rick Snyder.

The Driver Responsibility Fee Program was instituted in 2003 to assess fees for driving offenses of varying levels of severity. The new legislation will eliminate the fees on Oct. 1, 2018 instead of Oct. 1, 2019, when they were originally slated to end.

“I have long opposed these fees and worked with the Legislature since taking office to phase them out,” Gov. Snyder said. “I’m pleased we found a solution that eliminates them without creating new state debt and helps remove barriers to work for more Michiganders.”

HBs 5040, 5043, 5044 and 5079, sponsored by state Reps. Lee Chatfield, Roger Hauck, Joseph Bellino, and Daire Rendon, respectively, will amend the same section of the Vehicle Code to make the following changes:

—Specify that after Sept. 30, 2018 Department of Treasury can no longer collect outstanding fees. In addition, it specifies that drivers are no longer liable for any fees that remain outstanding and can have their license reinstated.

—End responsibility for the balance of fees for drivers who had entered into an installment agreement to pay their fees on or before Feb. 1, 2018 and make drivers eligible to have their license reinstated if they were otherwise in compliance with the act.

—Accelerate the existing phase out so that no new assessments would be issued beginning Oct. 1, 2018.

—Make a person enrolled in a workforce training payment program eligible to have their license reinstated and fees waived upon completion of the program.

—Eliminate the separate reinstatement fee of $125 charged by the Secretary of State to reinstate a license that was suspended due to unpaid DRFs from the date the bill is signed (March 1, 2018) until December 31, 2018.

—Designate $250,000 to the Department of Treasury for purpose of implementing and administering changes to the act and the workforce training program.

“Driver responsibility fees placed an unfair burden on Michigan families that made it difficult for many to reach their full potential,” Lt. Gov. Brian Calley said. “I’m pleased that we are able to finally get these fees off the books and keep working toward helping all Michiganders get back to work and experience our comeback.”

Snyder and Calley said they appreciated the partnership of legislative leaders in reaching a compromise.

“This legislation was intended to make all drivers more accountable, but all it really did was punish our citizens and make it harder for men and women to find work and keep their jobs,” Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof said. “I am happy to see us do away with this burdensome law."

The 8-bill package also includes:

—HB 5041, sponsored by state Rep. Sylvia Santana, would task the Department of Treasury, Department of Health and Human Services, the Unemployment Insurance Agency, Michigan Works! Agencies and the Department of Corrections with providing information and outreach to individuals impacted by changes relative to DRFs.

—HB 5046, sponsored by state Rep. Steve Marino, amends the Vehicle Code so that if an individual completes their DWI/Sobriety Court Program after Oct. 1, 2018, the associated DRF will be waived and not collected.

—SB 613, sponsored by state Sen. Rick Jones, makes a complementary change to the Enhanced Driver’s License Act to reflect these changes.

—SB 625, sponsored by state Sen. Ken Horn, creates the Workforce Training Payment Program within Department of Treasury. The department would be responsible for working with local and state workforce programs to allow those enrolled in the program to have their license reinstated and fees waived.

The bills are now Public Acts 43-50 of 2018.

“As a prosecutor in Genesee County, I saw the burden these fees put on families, and I saw how hard it was for far too many people to live under their weight,” House Speaker Tom Leonard said. “This repeal is the right thing to do for the people of Michigan. These bills will put three hundred thousand hard-working people back into the workforce, and they give hundreds of thousands of families a new opportunity to make a living. Smart, conservative budgeting in recent years have given the state the ability to repeal these fees, and I am glad we have done so and made Michigan families our top priority once again.”

Secretary of State Ruth Johnson made the following statement on the subject:

“This announced deal to address and fully eliminate Driver Responsibility Fees is great news for Michigan motorists. The automatic fees collected by the Department of Treasury were a terrible mistake... They’re a double-penalty that hit hard-working Michigan families and unlike the underlying traffic ticket, judges couldn’t review or offer alternate ways of taking care of the added fee.

“The fact that we’re eliminating these fees shows how much Michigan has come back over the past seven years. I’m thankful that the Legislature and the governor are moving swiftly to close this painful chapter in our history. The fees had nothing to do with traffic safety, never should have been adopted and are now finally on the way out."

As a state representative in 2003, Johnson voted against Driver Responsibility Fees. As secretary of state, she has pushed for repealing the Driver Responsibility Fee law, successfully advocating that lawmakers eliminate the most common fees in 2011, create a community service option for certain fees in 2015 and begin phasing out all fees.

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