Clarifying Its Stand, AAA Issues Statement in Support of Fees

By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 28, 2007

RICHMOND, Aug. 27 -- AAA Mid-Atlantic has clarified its position on Virginia's controversial bad-driver fees, saying it supports them and does not believe a special session is needed to consider changes.

"As all parties involved have acknowledged, changes need to be made in order to improve the abusive driver fee legislation," the automobile, travel and financial organization said in a statement. "However, AAA believes the fees themselves, when properly and fairly applied, provide Virginia the opportunity to improve the safety of its roads while generating needed transportation funding."

House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford), a strong supporter of the fees, has relied in part on AAA to help fend off critics who say the fees are unconstitutional, unfairly target the poor and turn police officers into tax collectors.

In recent days, AAA has sent conflicting signals about its position on the fees as it has sought to balance the wishes of its competing constituencies.

AAA officials said many of their members are outraged by the steep fees, which can reach $3,000, but other members support them.

Last month, the organization issued a statement supporting the fees. That prompted a flood of angry comments from AAA members, some of whom threatened to cancel their memberships.

On Thursday, Howell held a news conference to announce that GOP lawmakers plan to amend the fees when the General Assembly convenes in January if Republicans retain control of the House of Delegates and Senate after the Nov. 6 election.

Martha Mitchell Meade, manager of public and government affairs in AAA's Richmond office, issued a statement Thursday crediting Howell for "responding to vociferous cries of Virginia motorists."

On the same day, John B. Townsend II, director of public and governmental affairs in AAA's Washington office, issued a separate statement. In a follow-up interview, which was reported Friday in The Washington Post, Townsend said state lawmakers should consider holding a special session to deal with the fees. Townsend also said that "it's clear the fees cannot continue as is."

But in the statement issued over the weekend, which followed meetings between the Washington and Richmond office, AAA said it does not support a special session.

"Since the issue is a highly charged one, which requires careful examination and decision making, elected officials should use this time prior to the session to formulate and consider changes that will improve the legislation," the statement said. "The full session is the most appropriate time to address this issue."

Besides offering motorist assistance, travel and financial services, AAA lobbies in Richmond for highway safety measures, some of which the House of Delegates has viewed skeptically.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company