Driver responsibility fees 'basically a debtors' prison for low-income citizens in Michigan'
Legislation needed to allow a phase-out of one of the most regressive set of laws enacted in recent times is expected to be passed by the state Legislature within a matter of weeks.
The measure, Senate Bill 633, is the second piece of a two-bill package aimed at eventually eliminating Michigan's "driver responsibility fees.” The bill could be brought up in the House as soon as Aug. 27.
In a blatant move to hike revenues under the guise of public safety, in 2003 the Legislature passed a bill that assessed "driver responsibility fees." These fees often go beyond just assigning stiffer penalties for unsafe driving practices and pile on costs that individuals often don't have the ability to pay. In addition, under certain circumstances, they include stiff fines for violations such as not being able to produce proof of insurance when stopped by law enforcement.
Once the $123.2 million annual revenue stream from the fees was created, state government became addicted to it. In spite of a decade of public outcry over the fees and frequent statements by lawmakers themselves that the fees were bad policy, they remained on the books.
Two lawmakers, neither of whom is seeking re-election this year, are the sponsors of the legislation to phase the fees out. The new law will also, in the meantime, allow some affected drivers to do community service instead of paying the fines.
House Appropriations Committee Chair Joe Haveman, R-Holland, is the sponsor of House Bill 5414, which creates the phase-out, while Senate Bill 633 deals with the community service in lieu of payment angle. Before the phase-out can begin, both bills need to be signed by Gov. Rick Snyder.
“The main bill (House Bill 5414) phases out the fees over a six-year period, which is longer than I wanted, but it was the best we could get,” Rep. Haveman told Capitol Confidential. “That bill has already been signed by the governor, but it is tie-barred to the Senate Bill (633), which has yet to be passed.”
“This is good legislation,” Rep. Haveman continued. “We have ourselves in a situation where there are $600 million in uncollected fees that we’re never going to collect. We need to get out of this and off the peoples’ backs.”
Sen. Bruce Caswell, R-Hillsdale, said the fees are an unjustified burden and barrier to many.
“These fees have created what is basically a debtors’ prison for low-income citizens in Michigan,” Sen. Caswell said. “We have to end the fees and give these people their lives back so they can do basic things like simply being able to drive to work.
“I applaud the governor for being willing to have this taken up and Rep. Joe Haveman for pursuing it,” Sen. Caswell added. “Rep. Haveman did an absolutely outstanding job with this. He came to me, told me what he wanted to do and said, ‘Bruce, I know this is something you’ve been very concerned about’ and I said, ‘I don’t care who gets the credit for it as long as we get it done.’”
According to a 2012 Senate Fiscal Agency analysis, only 56 percent of the fees assessed were collected. That statistic could be taken as evidence of the degree to which the fees have caused financial hardship. All indications are that when Senate Bill 633 is brought up for a vote in the House it will pass easily. It is also rumored that there are plans for a public press conference/bill signing at which the governor would sign the legislation.
|October 1, 2015||75%|
|October 1, 2016||50%|
|October 1, 2018||25%|
|October 1, 2019||No Fee|