Michigan House votes to end hated driver responsibility fees; Senate version disagrees

LANSING, MICH. - A wide bipartisan majority of the House of Representatives passed bills Thursday that will speed up the elimination of costly driver responsibility fees and forgive the debt owed by thousands of Michiganders.

But the package of bills is different than the legislation passed last month by the Senate, which doesn't forgive all the $647 million owed by drivers. That sets up a fight to come up with a compromise on ending the dreaded fees.

Both the Senate and Gov. Rick Snyder have said they're worried about the implications of losing $52 million in revenue for the 2017-18 budget year, which began Oct. 1

But that didn't stop the House from voting 103-5 Thursday night on the main bill in the package, ending the driver responsibility fees on Oct. 1, 2018, and forgiving the debt owed by drivers.

"Michigan should not balance its budget on the backs of drivers. It was bad idea from the beginning," said state Rep. Leslie, Love, D-Detroit. "The fees are punitive and they perpetuate the cycle of poverty."

Said state Rep. Joe Bellino, R-Monroe: "These driver responsibility fees do nothing to improve driving habits, but they do keep families in debt. This is a failed experiment that achieved nothing."

Driver responsibility fees, ranging from $100 to $2,000, were passed in 2003 to help fill a budget hole when Michigan’s economy faltered. And the money raised – between $99 million and $115 million a year – did help the state’s general fund.

According to the Michigan Department of Treasury, nearly 350,000 Michigan drivers still owed $634 million in driver responsibility fees.

Judges, drivers and lawmakers hated the fees and say that they punished drivers twice for the same infraction, piling expensive fees on top of court fines already imposed by judges.

The latest package of bills would:

  • Forgive all outstanding driver responsibility fees when the program is eliminated on Oct. 1, 2018.
  • Create an education outreach program to let drivers know how to reinstate their drivers licenses.
  • Reinstate the community service program for people who can’t pay off their fines before the program is eliminated.
  • Provide immediate forgiveness of outstanding debts to people who have been making a good faith effort to pay off their fines.
  • Reinstate the eligibility for drivers’ licenses to affected drivers when the program is eliminated.
  • Create a path for drivers to use district court sobriety programs to regain their license.

While the original bills introduced in the Senate would have forgiven all of the debt owed on Oct. 1, 2018, the amended bills as passed threw a big wrench into that debt forgiveness.

Debt that is at least six years old — about $304.3 million of the $634 million total — would be deemed uncollectible and forgiven. But driver responsibility fees that are younger than six years old would not be forgiven and the Department of Treasury could continue to try and collect those fees through things such as garnishing income tax refunds.

The House bills - HB 5040-5046 and 5079-5080 - now move to the Senate for consideration.

Detroit Free Press Lansing Bureau


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