Snyder signs bills to forgive debt for unpaid driver fees

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Hundreds of thousands of Michigan drivers will not have to pay outstanding, extra fees assessed for certain traffic infractions and will avoid a license reinstatement charge under legislation signed Thursday by Gov. Rick Snyder.

The new laws will also speed up the elimination of newly-assessed “responsibility” fees by a year.

The fees were enacted by former Gov. Jennifer Granholm and legislators in 2003. They are imposed in addition to regular fines and had come under criticism as a budget-balancing “money grab” that disproportionately hurt low-income motorists who cannot afford to pay, perpetuating a cycle of poverty. Historically, only 55 percent of the debt has been paid.

The state suspends the driver’s license of those who do not fully pay the fees or who do not have an installment plan.

Outstanding fees totaled $637 million last summer. About 348,000 motorists had unpaid debt for offenses such as driving without insurance and accumulating too many points from traffic violations.

“I have long opposed these fees and worked with the Legislature since taking office to phase them out,” Snyder, a Republican, said in a statement. “I’m pleased we found a solution that eliminates them without creating new state debt and helps remove barriers to work for more Michiganders.”

Starting Oct. 1, no new assessments will be issued, and debt will be wiped clear starting Sept. 30. Through the end of the year, people whose license has been suspended due to unpaid responsibility fees will not have to pay the separate $125 reinstatement fee.

House Speaker Tom Leonard, a DeWitt Republican, said when he was a prosecutor, he saw how the fees burdened people.

“This repeal is the right thing to do for the people of Michigan,” he said in a statement. “These bills will put 300,000 hard-working people back into the workforce, and they give hundreds of thousands of families a new opportunity to make a living.”

In 2011, the Legislature and Snyder did away with some fees. In 2014, they moved to phase out all of them.

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