Kaine: fees only for Va. motorists

GOP lawmakers' bill had included out-of-state drivers

Tuesday, Jul 17, 2007 - 12:09 AM

By TYLER WHITLEY TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITER Gov. Timothy M. Kaine's office was behind the exclusion of out-of-state motorists from new hefty driving fees that have generated considerable outrage around the state.

Republican members of the General Assembly have taken most of the heat, but their original transportation bill in this year's General Assembly session included out-of-state motorists.

Kaine spokesman Kevin Hall said that as the bill was being reviewed, "we received an awful lot of advice from people who had concerns about the practical issue in attempting to collect a fee from an out-of-state driver."

Del. David B. Albo, R-Fairfax, a leading proponent of the fees, said the legislature could not impose fines -- which can be levied on out-of-state motorists and collected -- rather than fees, because under the Virginia Constitution, fines go to the Literary Fund for educational purposes.

Non-Virginia motorists were dropped when Kaine proposed 65 amendments to the Republican-sponsored legislation. The Kaine substitute bill was adopted April 4 at the assembly's reconvened session.

The legislation passed the House of Delegates 85-15 and the Senate 29-10. Both the governor and the legislative branch were eager to enact a bill that, for the first time in 21 years, would provide substantial new funding for roads and mass transit.

The fees, part of a $3 billion transportation package, are designed to raise about $65 million a year. The money goes to highway maintenance.

Kaine's spokesman said the governor also proposed some changes to the Republican legislation that would help motorists, including -- for the purpose of levying some of the fees -- starting July 1 with no demerit points assessed against Virginia motorists. The Republican bill would have continued demerit points from previous years, Hall said. The legislation went into effect July 1.

"We feel Virginians' concerns," said Hall, who added that Kaine would work with the assembly next year in trying to find a way to include out-of-state motorists.

Del. H. Morgan Griffith, R-Salem, the House majority leader, was conciliatory.

"I think he probably was advised that it would be difficult to collect," he said.

"It might have been better for all of us if he had left it in the bill," he added.

The fees cover not only serious driving offenses but many misdemeanors. For instance, a reckless-driving conviction mandates $1,050 in fees over a three-year period -- as does a misdemeanor conviction for failure to give a proper signal.

Any felony conviction results in $3,000 in fees, in three annual payments, on top of court-imposed penalties. Most misdemeanors, including driving with "below-standard tires," amount to $900.

The fees have stirred outrage and an online petition drive that has garnered close to 100,000 signatures. Petitioners appear most upset that the fees apply only to in-state motorists.

Republicans yesterday were not trying to make an issue of Kaine's role in the transportation package. Like Griffith, many feel that fees imposed on out-of-state motorists, if not unconstitutional, are at least uncollectable.

"If I could find a way to get out-of-state motorists, I'd do it," Albo said.

But he said the fees are based on demerit points, issued for bad driving. Virginia has no authority to assess points on out-of-state drivers, he said.

Albo and others have been promoting bad-driver fees for three years. Kaine endorsed them last year and again this year in his State of the Commonwealth address. Contact Tyler Whitley at (804) 649-6780 or twhitley@timesdispatch.com.