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Legislation to end driver responsibility fees sees movement

Michigan State Police

Legislation to nix Driver Responsibility Fees is moving through the state Legislature.

The fees require drivers to pay to get their driver’s license back after getting too many points on their license or committing certain driving offenses.

There’s already a law to phase out the fees completely in 2019. But lawmakers say that’s not soon enough. They want the fee to be gone by October of next year. And they want people that haven’t paid their fees to be forgiven.

Secretary of State Ruth Johnson is in favor of getting rid of the fees. She called it a bipartisan mistake in need of a bipartisan solution.  

“It’s the responsible thing to do,” she said. “It’s the right thing to do.”

Similar legislation is in both chambers. A bills package passed through a Senate committee Wednesday. It could be up for a full vote as early as next week. A House committee also heard testimony Wednesday, but it didn’t vote.

Some officials, including the state Treasury, are concerned about the impact taking away the fees could have on the state’s budget. Independent government agencies say the bills could decrease state revenue by up to $30 million dollars.

Bill sponsor, Senator Dave Hildenbrand (R-Lowell) has worked on the state budget. He said the budget impact would likely take care of itself.  

“When you have 300 thousand people potentially back being productive citizens, getting jobs, going back to work, paying taxes, buying things – we will see benefits of that from a revenue standpoint as well,” he said.

The fees were originally created to fill a hole in the state budget. Driver Responsibility Fees have been criticized as having no impact on public safety and disproportionately affecting low income people – preventing them from keeping a license and getting a job.

“We’re trying to get blood from a rock,” said bill sponsor Curtis Hertel (D-East Lansing). “And at the end of the day these fees are unfair and they’ve been a huge problem getting people back to work. Especially those that are trying to recover from the economy or those that have come out of prison.”

The bills are — HB 5040-5046.

Before becoming the newest Capitol reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network, Cheyna Roth was an attorney. She spent her days fighting it out in court as an assistant prosecuting attorney for Ionia County. Eventually, Cheyna took her investigative and interview skills and moved on to journalism. She got her masters at Michigan State University and was a documentary filmmaker, podcaster, and freelance writer before finding her home with NPR. Very soon after joining MPRN, Cheyna started covering the 2016 presidential election, chasing after Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and all their surrogates as they duked it out for Michigan. Cheyna also focuses on the Legislature and criminal justice issues for MPRN. Cheyna is obsessively curious, a passionate storyteller, and an occasional backpacker. Follow her on Twitter at @Cheyna_R
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