LANSING, Mich. — The 348,000 Michigan drivers who owe outstanding state “responsibility” fees for certain traffic infractions would see their debt forgiven in 11 months under bipartisan bills approved overwhelmingly by the state House on Thursday.
The 103-5 vote set the stage for further negotiations among lawmakers and Gov. Rick Snyder, who has concerns about the budgetary impact. The Senate two weeks ago passed a plan to gradually forgive the estimated $634 million in outstanding fees over six years, meaning the state would still collect some money.
As of April, debt that was six years or older totaled $304 million, according to the state Treasury Department.
Both chambers’ plans would speed up the elimination of newly assessed responsibility fees, from October 2019 to October 2018.
“Michigan should not balance its budget on the back of drivers,” said Democratic Rep. Leslie of Detroit, a sponsor of a measure in the nine-bill package, all of which were passed unanimously. She said the fees were “bad from the beginning” and called them a “double tax.”
The fees were enacted by former Gov. Jennifer Granholm and lawmakers in 2003 to deter drivers who repeatedly violate traffic safety laws. But the fees, which are imposed in addition to regular fines, have come under criticism as a budget-balancing “money grab” that disproportionately hurt low-income motorists who cannot afford to pay and perpetuated a cycle of poverty.
“This is a failed experiment that achieved nothing,” said another bill sponsor, Republican Rep. Joe Bellino of Monroe.
The state suspends the driver’s license of those who do not fully pay the fees or who do not have an installment plan.
In 2011, the Legislature and Snyder did away with some fees. In 2014, they moved to phase out all of them.
The fees now range from $100 to $2,000 for offenses such as driving without insurance and accumulating too many points from traffic infractions. Other bills approved Thursday would let motorists do community service to clear their debt and let those whose driving privileges have been suspended for unpaid responsibility fees reinstate their license.
House Bills 5040-46 and 5079-80: http://bit.ly/2za6bLn