- The Washington Times - Friday, January 4, 2008

Virginia’s lieutenant governor yesterday joined a growing list of lawmakers calling for a repeal of the package of “abuser” fees that have been imposed on Virginia drivers since the summer.

“While this was the most noble of efforts, it simply has not worked out the way it was intended, and it has become terribly unpopular in the public eye,” Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling said in a letter to legislators. “That is why I favor the total repeal of the abusive driver fees, as opposed to their modification.”

The suggestion comes six days before the General Assembly convenes in Richmond for its 60-day legislative session. Lawmakers are expected to focus most of their time balancing a shortfall in the current budget that runs through June and negotiating a new two-year spending plan, but the lingering disgust over the fees ensures they will be a prominent topic of debate.

The administrative fees, which apply solely to Virginia drivers, are part of the multibillion transportation deal passed last year by Gov. Tim Kaine, a Democrat, and the Republican-controlled General Assembly. The fees range from $750 for driving on a suspended license to $3,000 for driving-related felonies and are added to any court-imposed fines.

The plan, which proponents said would improve public safety, was criticized last week after state officials said traffic fatalities surpassed 1,000 in a year for the first time in nearly two decades.

In addition, opponents cite a report released last month by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission that questioned the deterrent effect of the new fees. The report warned that the program could lead to 137,000 driver’s license suspensions by the end of June and to 181,000 more in the next fiscal year.

Mr. Bolling, a Republican, said the report also indicates that the abuser fees are “not generating anywhere near the $60 million a year we had been told they would generate.”

“In fact, the fees only resulted in total collections of $2.8 million through Nov. 30th of 2007,” he said.

The stance by Mr. Bolling, whose authority is essentially limited to tie-breaking votes in the Senate, appears to put him at odds with other leaders in his party.

In August, House Speaker William J. Howell, Stafford County Republican, and then-Senate Majority Leader Walter A. Stosch, Henrico Republican, responded to the public dissatisfaction by promising to tweak the fees this session to make them apply to out-of-state drivers.

They also vowed:

• To eliminate the fees for Class 3 and Class 4 misdemeanors, such as failure to report an accident and driving an uninsured vehicle.

• To reassess the reckless-driving statute and consider graduated penalties to reflect the severity of the violation.

• To give judges greater discretion to waive fees for driving on a suspended license in cases where the suspension was solely the result of failure to pay a fine or fee.

Delegate David B. Albo, Fairfax Republican and one of the authors of the original program, plans to push a bill that includes many of those recommendations.

“If people will not listen to the blogs and sit down and read the bill, there will not be a rational person who is against it,” Mr. Albo said.

Asked about Mr. Bolling’s recommendation, Mr. Albo responded, “I’d like to see Bill read my bill and see if it doesn’t satisfy his objections.”

Mr. Bolling joins a list of lawmakers who have called for a repeal.

House Democratic Caucus Leader Brian J. Moran, Alexandria Democrat; Lacey E. Putney, Bedford independent and the incoming chairman of the Appropriations Committee; and Delegate Robert G. Marshall, Prince William County Republican, have already filed legislation to repeal the program outright.

Some proposals include refunds for motorists already charged, some do not.

Many grass-roots conservatives thought the fees sold out the party’s basic tenets of low taxation and less government, and the issue was prominent in November’s legislative elections.

More than 175,000 people have signed an online petition demanding the repeal of the fees, and constitutional challenges are pending in the state’s court system.

Judges in three circuit courts and eight district courts across the state have upheld the fees. In addition, a Roanoke judge last month ruled that a challenge could go forward. An Arlington County General District Court judge ruled in September that the fees were unconstitutional, and an appeal by the Attorney General’s Office is pending.

Mr. Kaine has said he prefers to modify the fees but left open the possibility that he would support a repeal.

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