It's starting to get very interesting. 8)
Richmond, Va. (AP) - Legislative leaders are responding to a public backlash against the new "abusive driver" fees by vowing to reconsider at least some of them during the next General Assembly session.
The fees, which took effect July 1, are intended to raise as much as $65 million as part of a transportation funding package legislators approved during the 2007 session.
They were supposed to be assessed only for the most serious traffic offenses, such as drunken driving. However, because of what lawmakers are calling a mistake, the fees also can be levied for less serious offenses like driving too fast for road conditions.
"As a part-time legislature, we will make mistakes, and we will have to correct them," said House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith, R-Salem, who wants to revisit the misdemeanor fees.
According to an analysis by the Supreme Court of Virginia, a motorist criminally charged with driving too fast for road conditions will have to pay $300 a year for three years, in addition to the regular fine. Anyone convicted of driving more than 80 mph on an interstate must pay $350 annually for three years.
"I think clearly the overwhelming majority of delegates and senators never meant or expected it would apply to these lesser charges," said Del. Clifford L. "Clay" Athey Jr., R-Warren. "There was obviously a drafting error."
The aspect of the fees drawing the most vociferous protests, however, is the fact that they apply only to Virginia drivers.
Out-of-state motorists are exempt because the sanction for failing to pay the fees is suspension of driving privileges, and Virginia has no authority to yank the license of drivers from other states.
More than 37,600 people have signed an Internet petition demanding repeal of the fees. The petition drive was started July 6 by Bryan Ault, a 28-year-old computer systems tester from Alexandria. Many of the signatures are accompanied by comments calling the fees ridiculous, absurd and unfair.
Sen. Kenneth W. Stolle, R-Virginia Beach, said the General Assembly probably will try to limit the fees to "truly reckless drivers." Stolle said some lawmakers also want to collect the fees from out-of-state motorists.
Del. Robert G. Marshall, R-Prince William, who voted against the bill when it passed the House of Delegates (website) , said he will seek to repeal the fees if he is re-elected this fall.
"This makes our state troopers and local police officers tax collectors rather than peace officers," he said.
One the leading proponents, Del. David B. Albo, acknowledged that legislators might have to take another look at the law, although he continues to support its intent.
"This is a totally voluntary tax," said Albo, R-Fairfax. "If you don't drive like an idiot, you don't have to pay it."
Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, who has been advocating for the abuser fees since taking office, said through a spokesman Thursday that he "remains open to the possibility" of revising the charges.
However, press secretary Kevin Hall said Kaine still thinks the fees will make Virginia roads safer.
"It is important to remember most of these enhanced fees only apply to a small percentage of motorists who engage in criminal, reckless driving that causes accidents and injures and kills other people," Hall said.