You are pulled over by the police for a headlight being out on your vehicle. You receive a defective equipment ticket and you forget to pay the ticket, so your driver’s license gets suspended. You get pulled over again and this time you are cited for a suspended driver’s license and not only end up paying fines for the suspended driver’s license, but also, a few weeks later, receive a $500 driver’s responsibility fee. Then a year later, you receive another notice from the State of Michigan for a second $500 driver responsibility fee.
Now those fees are only one year as the second wave of phasing out the driver responsibility fees took effect on Oct. 1, 2016.
“A lot of people were calling the state and asking what the second bill was for,” said Kentwood District Court Judge William Kelly, who with former 90th District House Representative Joe Haveman, lead the charge to abolish the state’s driver responsibility fee.
On Monday, Kelly hosted a small celebration marking the second phase of the gradual elimination of these fees.
“When we brought this before the state government, there was some hesitation because it is such a revenue generator for the state,” Kelly said. Enacted in 2003 when the state was in an economic recession, the fines generate about $100 million for the state treasury. However, about $600 million in fees have gone delinquent or unpaid since the fees were put in place.
“I have a woman who has come into this court and because of the vicious cycle the fees create, now has 56 driver responsibility fees,” Kelly said. This is because if a person does not pay the fee, his/her license can be suspended. If the person gets caught driving with a suspended license, they will get another driver responsibility fee and so the cycle goes.
“They can’t pay the fines unless they work, yet they can’t work because they have no way to get there since their license has been suspended,” Kelly said. “In the end, for many, the only way to get out from under these fines is to declare bankruptcy.”
In 2013, Kelly meet Haveman and the two decided to tackle the driver responsibility fees. The following winter, Haveman presented a bill to eliminate the fees and through a compromise, it was agreed that the fees would be gradually eliminated. The first phase took place last year, with fees being 100 percent the first year and 50 percent the second. On Oct. 1, that was reduced to just a one-year fee assessment. On Oct. 1, 2018, the fees will be reduced by 50 percent and on Oct. 1, 2019, the fees will be completely eliminated. Haveman noted that when he introduced the bill, he had the support of the entire house.
“There was some hesitation due to the revenue it generated but most were pretty much saying ‘Heck yes, this is the dumbest thing,’” said Haveman who is now the director of government relations at Hope Network. Haveman was forced out of the State House because of term limits but before leaving, Haveman said he made it clear that this was the one item at the top of his bucket list that he wanted to complete before leaving.
“We are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel,” Kelly said. “We are very, very happy. Obviously, we wish we could have done it sooner, but we realize that a compromise was going to have to be made in order to get it done.”
So pleased is Kelly that he plans to celebrate each phase of the elimination. “So make sure to come back in October 2019. We should have a pretty big celebration then,” he said.