Senate Votes to Repeal Abusive Driver Fees


RICHMOND Virginia drivers are one step closer to relief from abusive driver fees after the Senate unanimously passed a bill to repeal the fees this past Wednesday.

The fees were expected to generate $65 million in revenue to help the state fund its $3 billion in transportation projects. Many Virginians oppose the fees, which cost each charged Virginian driver up to $3,000. Depending on the severity of the offense, the fees are payable over three years. Out-of-state drivers are exempt.

Today, we remove one of the biggest mistakes I have seen this legislature make, Sen. R. Edward Houck, D-Spotsylvania, the chief sponsor of the bill, stated in a press release. The people have spoken loudly that they wanted these fees gone, and that is what we have done.

Senate Bill 1 calls for a clean repeal of the fees and would apply to all drivers.  The legislation would allow drivers to petition the court to invalidate previously issued fees. If the judge vacates the fees, the drivers are exempt from future payments and can apply to have the money they already spent refunded.
 Sen. J. Chapman Peterson, D-Fairfax, spoke in favor of the measure on the Senate floor.

This is a clean repeal, Peterson said. It puts the burden on us to contact those who were convicted under the statute. It sets up a streamlined process to refund these fees and clarifies that no one will lose their license for failure to pay an abuser fee.

Sen. Mark R. Herring, D-Leesburg, a co-sponsor of the bill, said in a telephone interview that he decided to support the legislation because of the clean repeal and the possibility of refunds.  

There was a JLARC (Joint Legislative and Review Commission) study that showed it wasnt generating the amount proponents of the abusive driver fees, Herring said. Relative to the size of the budget and even the transportation budget, it is very, very small.

The study revealed $13 million in fees had been assessed, and only $4 million had been collected. JLARC is the General Assemblys oversight agency.   
Herring also said he thought the fees were the wrong way to try to fund transportation and repealing the fees should not meaningfully affect revenue.

The House passed a similar bill earlier in the week. Both bills contain a mechanism for drivers to collect refunds on fees they already have paid, as well as an emergency clause that would put the repeal in effect immediately after it is signed by Gov. Tim Kaine.

While there are differences between the House and Senate bills, Herring said he expects the legislature to pass some form of the legislation before the end of session.

Herring said there is a possibility the bill will be reviewed by a conference committee. A committee review might help reconcile the differences in wording.

The language difference in the mechanism for refund is a very minor technical issue that should be able to be resolved pretty easily among the legislature and legislative process, Herring said.

SB 1 will now go to the House for a vote.