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A law took effect Monday that forgives any “driver responsibility fees” debts for affected motorists, allowing them to reinstate their license for free through the end of the year. 

The law could provide relief for more than 300,000 drivers who owed a combined $637 million in outstanding fees as of August 2017, much of which the state never expected to collect.

One of them was Courtney McDonald, who was happy to get her license back Monday. McDonald, of Hazel Park, was even happier she didn't have to pay the $125 reinstatement fee.

McDonald, who lost the license after failing to pay several speeding tickets, took advantage of the offer Monday at the Secretary of State office at Hazel Park. Now she won't have to take the bus to work anymore.

"I've been meaning to do it," she said about paying off the tickets. "This was as good a time as any."

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed the law in March. It amended a 2014 law to phase out the fees, which are assessed for certain offenses on top of traditional traffic fines, but had resisted the forgiveness plan because of the potential strain on the budget.

The governor agreed to the amnesty plan as part of a deal with legislative leaders on a $176 million tax cut bill.

“I have long opposed these fees and worked with the Legislature since taking office to phase them out,” Snyder said in a statement when he signed the law. “I’m pleased we found a solution that eliminates them without creating new state debt and helps remove barriers to work for more Michiganders.”

The new law officially ends the fee program Monday and stops state collections from most individuals, including anyone who had entered into a payment plan prior to February. Michigan has also temporarily waived the $125 reinstatement fee for motorists who lost their license over failure to pay the fees.

The amnesty law is projected to cost the state about $82.2 million in lost revenue over the next four years, according to the non-partisan House Fiscal Agency.

Michigan created driver responsibility fees nearly 15 years ago under the stated goal of deterring irresponsible driving. But critics such as House Speaker Tom Leonard, R-DeWitt, said it was actually “nothing more than a money grab to balance the budget.”

 

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