Front Page News: Senate Passes Abuser Fee Repeal

The Richmond Times Dispatch article has a good synopsis:

Here’s the back story:

There were several repeal bills including my SB 443 which were “rolled into” Senate Bill 1, patroned by Senator Edd Houck (D-Spotsylvania).   The bills reported out of the Transportation, Courts and Finance Committees before coming to the floor last week.  All the votes were unanimous.

However, there was both a complication and a controversy.

The complication was that the Senate Democrats wanted to give relief to those already hit with the fees.  However, under our state constitution, the legislature cannot force judges to reverse a legal order.  Without a reversal, the convicted driver has no choice but to pay the fine. 

The controversy was that the original amendment to SB 1 by Senator Stolle (R-Va Beach) limited judicial relief to only certain convicted drivers.  In my mind, that only set up further litigation about what drivers ”deserved’ relief.

From Monday-Wednesday, we worked on this issue behind the scenes.  Eventually, after several false starts, we set up the following procedure to take place upon repeal:

1.  The DMV will contact all drivers charged with an abuser fee to notify them of their rights.
2.  Those drivers can file a court petition without charge on a preprinted form to have the order reversed.  
3.  Judges will have discretion to grant or deny petitions.
4.  If the judge reverses the abuser fee penalty, then the driver can notify DMV and will receive a refund.

I drafted the final amendment language with Senator Stolle’s input and Senator Houck’s concurrence.  My intention was to make the reversal process as simple as possible, so that no one needs to hire a lawyer to get a refund.  Senator Stolle’s idea of judicial discrection remains so as to keep the separation of powers.  

Based on the unanimous vote (39-0) to approve the amendment, the other Senators agreed with our compromise.

Note that a reversal of the “abuser fee” penalty DOES NOT change the underlying conviction.  In other words, if  you were convicted of reckless driving in the past 6 months, that conviction remains as do the standard criminal penalties.  This repeal only affects the extra civil payment.

The abuser fee law was a bad idea.  I’m glad we were able to pass a comprehensive repeal in the first 20 days of the legislative session. 

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