RICHMOND (AP) — Gov. Timothy M. Kaine has told upset callers during radio talk shows this week that it was state lawmakers who decided only Virginia motorists would pay the so-called “abusive-driver fees” that take effect Sunday.
“That was kind of the format of the bill when it reached me, and I didn’t change that feature,” Mr. Kaine, a Democrat, said yesterday in response to a question to his monthly show on WRVA in Richmond and the Virginia News Network about the out-of-state exemption. “I think that’s something the legislature may address in the future.”
That’s easier said than done, said House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith.
“The short answer is we certainly will look at it, but changing it will not be an easy task,” said Mr. Griffith, Salem Republican.
“There is serious concern about it not applying to out-of-state drivers,” he said, adding that people who have asked him about the legislation “had concerns because it’s tied to licensure and residency in Virginia.”
The abusive-driver measures impose “civil-remedial fees” paid in three annual installments that could top $1,000 for such offenses as reckless driving and driving under the influence of alcohol. The fees are in addition to existing fines and in some cases jail time and license suspensions.
They were passed by the General Assembly this year as part of the first transportation funding reforms in 21 years and are intended to make the worst drivers pay a greater share of the costs of new highways needed statewide.
The payments were enacted as fees, not fines, so the revenue could be applied exclusively to road construction. The state constitution directs all fines into the state Literary Fund, which helps build new schools and supplements teachers’ retirement.
The fees also are imposed on drivers who, through too many speeding tickets or lesser traffic violations, accumulate eight or more demerit points on their driving records beginning July 1. The fees are $100 a year for as long as there are eight or more demerit points, plus $75 for each demerit beyond eight.
Because they are civil fees and lack the enforcement authority of a fine, the fees will be collected by the state Department of Motor Vehicles as a condition for renewing Virginia automobile registrations or licenses. That’s why the fee can only be collected from Virginia residents.
Mr. Kaine said he saw the exclusion in the bill but signed it anyway. He did remove a proposal that would have retroactively counted demerit points accrued before July 1.
“I’ve got to say there were options on the table for financing a system that would have applied to out-of-staters like a gas tax and things like that,” Mr. Kaine said. “The public overwhelmingly didn’t want that, the legislature didn’t want it, so this was one of a number of items we put on the table to raise funds,” he said.
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