Michiganders caught driving without a license or auto insurance will no longer be on the hook for a Driver Responsibility Fee payable to the state — and some local Twitter users celebrated the news.
The Driver Responsibility Fee was signed in 2003 by then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm. It assigned financial penalties paid annually to the state of Michigan to “to encourage responsible driving behavior and practices,” according to a site from her tenure.
The punitive fines are levied on drivers who are caught committing offenses like driving under the influence of alcohol, reckless driving and amassing more than seven points on a traffic record. Category 2 fines are assessed two years in a row. It’s a $1000 annually if you’re caught driving while intoxicated, in addition to any fees or penalties assessed by the municipality, and $500 annually for reckless drivers. Those fines will still be assessed under the 2003 law.
But the Driver Responsibility Fee was expanded to include punitive fines for drivers with no proof of insurance ($200) and driving without a license or on an expired license ($150.)
Vocal critics, including State Sen. Bert Johnson (D-Detroit), objected to the law’s expansion to include drivers arrested for operating a vehicle without a license or valid auto insurance. They pushed through a law rolling back these particular fines last December, which finally took effect on Oct. 1.
Sen. Johnson, who began working on the legislation while in the state House, said the fees provided more hardship to poor residents, even going so far as to call the fees “draconian.”
“I thought it was a regressive tax from the beginning,” Sen. Johnson told The Huffington Post. “Citizens were being harmed in a way that was larger unfair.”
While dropping the fees for driving without insurance or a license will lose about $8 million to $13 million for the state, changing the law earned bipartisan support in the Michigan Legislature. His ideas ended up being adopted into legislation sponsored by Sen. Bruce Caswell. Johnson said he played a large part in supporting the passage of the bill.
“The policy was more important than the politics,” Johnson said of the House Republicans’ move to embrace the change. “It’s a needed relief.”
Sen. Johnson lost a bid for the House to John Conyers, Jr. in the newly-redesigned 13th Congressional District, which hosted five Democrats in the August primary. But he told The Huffington Post that another Congress campaign still looks like his next political move.