From: Rep. Steve Drazkowski (R-Mazeppa)
Following a recent court ruling that found local traffic diversion classes to be illegal, I am authoring legislation that addresses how Minnesota should handle unauthorized programs in the future, as well as the people who had their money illegally taken from them by local governments.
Make no mistake, the local units of government that profited from these illegal programs did so out of greed.
Despite the State Auditor repeatedly telling them traffic diversion classes were illegal and the State Legislature specifically authorizing a program that allowed local governments to keep a portion of fines from traffic violations, these municipalities chose to break state laws so they could continue their extortion racket. In doing so, they violated Minnesota’s Constitution and the public’s trust.
In 2009, the Minnesota Legislature gave local governments the authority to implement administrative citation programs for certain limited traffic violations. It set the fine for administrative traffic tickets at $60. Of this amount, $40 is to be kept by local governments and $20 is to be sent to the State of Minnesota. Under this law, the traffic incidents are not reported to the state, preventing them from going on a driver’s record and from being discovered by auto insurers.
Some local governments thought they could ignore this law by continuing their own “traffic diversion programs” for similar offenses. Under these programs, the driver who broke a traffic law had the choice to either pay the state fine, or else pay a locally-set fee to attend a driving class offered by the city or county. Upon the program’s completion, the driver would not have the offense on his or her record, while the local government kept all of the fee proceeds.
Since 2010, 36 local units of government – 15 counties and 21 cities – have collected nearly $2 million from illegal traffic diversion programs, while the names of those who committed the traffic offenses have never been reported to state officials.
Under this bill, state law would explicitly shut down any remaining traffic diversion classes. The legislation also provides sanctions, including loss of authority, against county and city officers and employees who enact or continue unauthorized programs in the future; in addition it requires them to attend training on how to properly follow the law.
Finally, it orders the 36 local governments who illegally collected funds through traffic diversion programs to reimburse the fees to those citizens who participated in the programs. Under the bill, if a community fails to comply, it will face having twice the amount owed to participants withheld from their Local Government Aid allocations.
It’s time we hold local government officials accountable for willfully breaking the law. By ignoring the State Auditor’s warnings and the will of the Legislature, these municipalities illegally extracted money from the public for personal gain. They should be responsible for returning the money to those drivers who were duped into paying the unauthorized fine and attending the program.
Laws are in place to be followed; no one should understand this more than those who are elected to public office or who have sworn to uphold the law. This bill not only gives proper direction to those who believed that local governments could develop their own programs and take money from our citizens without the necessary legal authority, but also provides repayment to those who were misled into believing that their local officials had the authority to do so.