'ABUSIVE DRIVER' MEASURES
Kaine, Howell Mount Joint Defense of New Fees
Friday, July 20, 2007
RICHMOND, July 19 -- Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine and House Speaker William J. Howell, bitter political rivals who are fighting for control of the General Assembly this fall, joined Thursday to try to quell the public outcry over the "abusive driver" fees aimed at drunken and reckless motorists.
The first major joint news conference in five years by a Democratic governor and a Republican House speaker was a dramatic effort by the state's two most powerful politicians to restore Virginians' confidence in the recently approved transportation plan, which both consider cornerstones of their legacies.
"As speaker and as a responsible public servant, it is in the public interest to clear up the many mischaracterizations about abuser fees and resolve any lingering misapprehension about them," said Howell, who represents Stafford County. "After all, they are but one part of a much larger landmark transportation agreement."
The news conference underscored both leaders' mounting concern that they may have underestimated the potency of the abuser-fee issue.
Since the fees went into effect July 1, more than 130,000 people have signed an online petition demanding that legislators repeal the measures or risk being voted out of office. Howell and Kaine also are under pressure from their parties' base as liberals and anti-tax conservatives have united to fight the fees, which can top $1,000.
Howell and Kaine, probably sensing that the entire $1 billion-a-year transportation deal could unravel if they didn't stick together, said Thursday that they have no plans to repeal the fees.
They said the public misunderstands the fees, which are assessed on misdemeanor and felony driving convictions as well as motorists who get eight or more points on their driving records.
Howell and Kaine said the fees do not apply to common traffic infractions, such as failing to use a turn signal. But they will be assessed for more serious offenses, such as driving more than 20 miles over the posted limit, which can be considered reckless.
At the urging of Howell, the Virginia Supreme Court issued a statement on its Web site clarifying which offenses are subject to the fees.
Howell and Kaine, who spent much of the past two years fighting over tax increases, also argued that the fees will reduce deaths on the highways. The leaders enlisted support from Mothers Against Drunk Driving and AAA, both of which issued statements Thursday in favor of the fees.
"It affects poor drivers, not poor people," Kaine said.
But, he added, "We have heard folks loud and clear. They have concerns." He said he has created a group in his administration to monitor the application of the fees and decide by January whether the law needs to be changed when the General Assembly convenes.