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Bill to end 'abusive driver' fees advances


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Well! After this good news, I am now going to go and bake a carrot cake now.


How people can eat the junk food that's premade? I will never understand.




Bill to end 'abusive driver' fees advances

After working through versions of the repeal bill, the Senate's courts panel sends it on to the finance panel.

By Mason Adams

(804) 697-1584


RICHMOND -- Legislation to repeal the unpopular "abusive driver" fees received unanimous support from a Senate panel on Wednesday, but the discussion preceding the vote was anything but harmonious.


The Senate Courts of Justice Committee combined 10 similar bills to repeal the unpopular fees before voting to approve and send the merged legislation to the Finance Committee for consideration.


Little more than an hour after the vote, however, former committee chairman Sen. Ken Stolle, R-Virginia Beach, issued a statement bashing committee Democrats for rejecting an amendment that would have moved the bill's effective date forward. Democrats said during the hour-plus discussion that preceded the bill's passage that the amendment could be added during any point in the process. Adding it prematurely, they argued, could contribute to the bill's demise in the House of Delegates, despite widespread support for repeal in that chamber.


The partisan split on the committee was even more apparent during discussion on the following bill, which would repeal the fees while also increasing the state gasoline tax from 17.5 cents to 20 cents. That measure, sponsored by Sen. Phillip Puckett, D-Russell County, was approved on an 8-5 vote along party lines, with Democrats for it and Republicans against. It, too, will go to the Finance Committee.


Despite the acrimony, there was universal support on the committee for the idea of repealing the abusive driver fees, which were passed last year and took effect in July.


"I've never experienced the outcry from the public that I heard on this bill," said Sen. Edd Houck, D-Spotsylvania County, who sponsored one of the repeal bills.


Sen. Charles Colgan, D-Manassas, who sponsored an identical bill to Houck's, likewise told the committee that he doesn't "believe the General Assembly has any alternative but to repeal this legislation."


Houck talked about the case of an elderly Roanoke County woman who ran a stoplight and was subsequently charged with reckless driving, which qualified for the abusive driving fees. The fee, Houck said, would amount to more than her monthly Social Security check.


"That told me we made a mistake," Houck said.


That reckless driving charge, filed against Mary Minter, was dismissed Wednesday.


Committee members took more than an hour to work out differences between two versions of the repeal bill. One version offered a refund plus interest to those Virginians who had already paid abuser fees, while the other did not offer that refund.


"I'd love to give these people their money back -- and a tax cut," said Sen. Ken Cuccinelli, R-Fairfax County, who sponsored one of the nonrefund bills. "But ... we've never done that before that I know of, in terms of going back and returning money like this."


After a staff member told the committee the General Assembly could not reverse a court order to collect the fees, however, the committee voted to remove the refund clause from all the bills.


The Finance Committee will consider both Puckett's bill, with the tax increase, and the merged bill that offers repeal of the abuser fees without replacing that revenue. Sen. Majority Leader Richard Saslaw estimated that $4.8 million has already been collected from fees administered since July.

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