In a move being compared to the Boston Tea Party, the town council of Front Royal, Virginia. appears poised to block enforcement of Virginias huge new abusive driver fees within town limits.
The plan would only effect citizens charged by officers of the Front Royal Police Department. Town officers use the town code when citing traffic violations within town limits. The fees would still be applied to charges issued by sheriffs deputies or state troopers in town because they issue summonses using state code. Any offenses involving a DUI would not be covered under the plan since all law enforcement officers, including the town police force, use state law when a DUI is included in a crime.
The creative plan is the brainchild of Front Royal Town Attorney Tom Robinett, according to Town Councilman Thomas Sayre. Robinette declined to speak to the matter on the record until after it is discussed by council members.
That discussion is scheduled to occur at the July 23rd council meeting. Members received a copy of the new ordinance on July 18th, according to Sayre.
“I have requested, and it will be placed on the agenda of the next regular council meeting to have Virginia Code 46.2-206.1 completely eliminated from the Town of Front Royal Code. At this point and time, I see no other way to better protect the citizens of Front Royal from these massive unfair civil fees,” Sayre said in an e-mail to Warren County Report.
That state code section is the portion of the 2007 Comprehensive Transportation Act that contains huge new fees for traffic offenses. The fees have come under sharp criticism because they apply only to Virginia residents, can reach into the thousands of dollars, and are applied to some relatively minor traffic offenses like failure to use a turn signal, driving with low-tread tires, and learners permit violations.
The fees are assessed in three annual payments. They may not be waived or reduced by a judge and are on top of any other fines, points, or court costs. Revenue from the fees, estimated at between $65 million and $175 million, will go to pay for state transportation projects. The fee was championed by the Republican-controlled General Assembly, which rebuffed Governor Tim Kaines earlier request for tax increases to pay for roads in congested, over-developed portions of Virginia. A one cent gas tax would have generated $50 million per year in revenue.
By eliminating that portion of the state law from the town code, the fees would not apply, according to Sayre. “Normally every July 1st our town incorporates the latest changes in the State Highway Laws (Title 46.2 of the Code of Virginia) into Town Code 158-6. In April 2007, our council enacted the latest changes in the State Highway Laws, including new Virginia Code 46.2-206.1, the Civil Remedial Fees, House Bill 3202/Chapter 896. The intent of the new town ordinance is to amend 158-6 of the Front Royal Town Code pertaining to adoption by reference of the state motor vehicular laws and exempt any Virginia citizen convicted under Town Code 158-6 from the civil penalties,” he said.
Sayre said he met with Robinette regarding the action and has spoken with several other members of town council. Sayre expects the motion to pass and withstand any and all legal challenges.
One of those challenges may be Virginias “Dillon Rule,” a legal doctrine that grants localities power to enact certain types of legislation only if granted specific power to do so by the state.
Sayre says he is convinced that his measure will pass that test.
“The Dillion Rule is not a problem because Virginia Code 46.2-1313 specifically states, Ordinances enacted by local authorities pursuant to this chapter may incorporate appropriate provisions of this title, . In other words, the town council of Front Royal is specifically authorized by State law to make this change to our town Code,” he said.
Another potential challenge could come from the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, through the Attorney General, predicts Sayre. That challenge may be unlikely since the Attorney General is a Republican whose party is scrambling to deflect a mountain of criticism of the new fees.
“If the is plan successful, this will mean that any citizen issued a [non-DUI traffic] ticket [by a Front Royal police officer] and convicted within the jurisdiction of the town of Front Royal will not have to pay the civil penalties to fund uncontrolled and unmanaged growth,” Sayre said.
The “civil remedial fees” came under attack by court officials, citizens, and media pundits after the Executive Secretary of the Virginia Supreme Court issued a paper outlining the relatively minor charges that would be charged the fees.
Sayre predicts that this plan will soon spread across the state as momentum against the fees grows.
A petition demanding a repeal of the user fee portion of the new transportation bill has garnered over 130,000 signatures. It is available for signing and viewing at http://www.petitiononline.com/va3202/petition.html
Democratic Governor Kaine and Republican House Speaker William Howell are facing increasing criticism for failing to call for a special session of the General Assembly to revise or repeal the user fee law.
Front Royal Republican Delegate Clay Athey has called on the Governor to call a special session and now favors “scrapping the whole thing.”
Dan McDermott is editor in chief of the Front Royal Warren County Report. Used by permission.