- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 5, 2007

WAVERLY, Va. — Mayor Susan P. Irving has no quarrel with Virginia forcing its worst drivers to pay more money — thousands of dollars in some cases.

She is a former ambulance medic who has handled the carnage caused by speeding on U.S. 460, the busy, narrow four-lane conduit linking small farm towns like hers on the way to the Atlantic beaches an hour’s drive east.

But she can’t tolerate that “civil remedial fees” that took effect Sunday apply only to Virginians, not the out-of-state motorists who throttle into her town.

“That’s all you hear everywhere you go, people talking about how unfair it is and what can be done about it,” Miss Irving said.

On talk radio, blogs and in letters to the editor, Virginians like her are sounding off about a burden only they bear while nonresident drivers are exempt. The fees are part of Virginia’s first major transportation funding overhaul in 21 years. Legislators estimate they could add about $62 million annually to the state’s highway maintenance fund.

Last year, police across the state issued hundreds of thousands of citations for offenses that now carry the hefty fees. About 7,018 were for driving under the influence, 100,592 were for reckless driving, 212,426 were for speeding and 58,092 were for driving on a lapsed, suspended or revoked license.

Fines for reckless or drunken driving routinely run into several hundred dollars and often more depending the driver’s speed and behavior behind the wheel, the jurisdiction and the driver’s record of offenses. Convictions sometimes bring jail time and revoked licenses.

Abusive driver fees are added to that and, for example, would boost the cost of a reckless driving conviction by $1,050, payable in three installments. The fees also kick in when drivers accumulate eight or more demerit points through other violations such as speeding.

Because they are administrative fees collected by the Department of Motor Vehicles, courts can’t waive or reduce them. The agency suspends the licenses of Virginians who don’t pay, so out-of-state drivers are not affected.

The backlash in Virginia has grown in the past two weeks. Callers complained to Gov. Timothy M. Kaine about it on his two monthly radio shows last week, prompting the governor to say legislators might have to address the issue.

“I can understand that feeling,” Mr. Kaine, a Democrat, told a group of reporters later. “But a majority of people believe ‘I don’t do those offenses.’ ”

House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith, Salem Republican, also said the provision would get another look.

Defense lawyers are preparing a court challenge.

“Certainly that will be challenged. The members of the Virginia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers are gearing up for it and model briefs and motions are already circulating,” said Craig Sampson, a Richmond lawyer.

Although the concepts are still “in the brainstorming stage,” Mr. Sampson said, one theory suggests that fees exclusive to Virginians violate the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law.

University of Richmond constitutional law professor Carl Tobias said the law might be upheld because courts often afford states discretion on civil or administrative fees, particularly when they are imposed for public safety.

Still, he said, “I think that it sounds like there are some creative arguments that might persuade a judge.”

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