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Hefty warning tickets could be boon to local governments
The State ^ | Monday, Mar. 07, 2011 | By CLIF LeBLANC

Posted on 03/08/2011 4:27:55 AM PST by DeaconBenjamin

Should police be able to issue $150 warning tickets to speeding drivers, protecting them from higher insurance premiums while fattening the wallets of governments?

A proposal in the Legislature would change state traffic laws and possibly reignite friction that dates back two decades among towns, counties, law enforcement agencies, courts and drivers.

A bill in the House of Representatives would allow police to write a warning ticket to speeders driving less than 10 mph over the speed limit. The kicker is the motorist would not suffer points on his or her driving record, which can raise premiums. In addition, cash-strapped state government and city halls would split the take.

“I’m thinking revenue — by taking it out of Big Insurance and putting it in the coffers of the state of South Carolina,” said Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Richland, and one of the bill’s two sponsors.

But the proposal also would require a reversal of state law that mandates that all traffic tickets be reported to the state Department of Motor Vehicles and points assessed according to the law. Attorneys general have supported that for more than 20 years.

The bill also could signal a return to the days when police occasionally pocketed the fines, or towns withheld the state’s share, some highly publicized incidents show.

If enacted, the new law could raise big bucks for the state and its cities and towns.

Already, police can write tickets under local laws for “careless driving” or “careless operation.” The tickets carry no points, and the fine depends on each town’s or county’s law, said DMV spokeswoman Beth Parks. A sampling of local police departments shows the fine can reach as high as $1,000.

Last year, police across the state wrote 26,442 such tickets, she said.

Rutherford, an attorney, said the warning ticket his bill would create would be an alternative to careless-driving offenses for low-speed violators. He maintains that drivers would be willing to pay a much higher fine to avoid insurance points. The current fine is at least $15 and a maximum of $25. Rutherford proposed a $150 fine, 10 times the minimum for speeding less than 10 mph over the speed limit.

But an insurance-industry trade group said that points no longer raise premiums the way they once did. Factors such as driving record, miles driven and where a motorist lives are bigger considerations, said Russ Dubisky, director of the S.C. Insurance News Service. “There’s no such thing as insurance points anymore,” he said.

It could not be readily determined how many of the state’s 270 municipalities or 46 counties have laws that create careless-driving tickets as alternatives to a statewide traffic violation. A handful of counties have such laws, including Richland, Newberry and Calhoun in the Midlands.

Locally, West Columbia, Cayce, South Congaree and Lexington have such laws on books. Some no longer write those tickets because of questions about their legality and enforcement hassles and because insurance companies converted the tickets into points for much worse violations such as reckless driving.

Cayce police stopped writing local tickets at least five years ago, Public Safety Director Charlie McNair said.

Enforcement became an irritant as officers found themselves bartering with motorists, McNair said. Drivers could choose a ticket based on the city’s 1975 law or state law. “We’re not in the business of catering — saying, ‘What kind of ticket would you like today?’’’ he said.

West Columbia police wrote 19 tickets in 2010, Chief Dennis Tyndall said. “Some truckers might lose their jobs, so they prefer the no-points,” he said. The city ticket can carry a fine as high as $445.

The town of Lexington hasn’t issued a local ticket since 2004, but the ordinance remains on the books. The maximum fine is $1,000, Chief Terrence Green said.

Municipal budgets

Careless-driving laws became popular with towns and cities in the early 1980s. Drivers could plead to the local charge, pay a higher fine but save themselves the points by not having them reported to DMV.

Local tickets became even more attractive in the mid-1990s when the state began tacking on many new fees to pay for a host of state programs, ranging from the court system to SLED, the Public Safety Department and crime victims assistance. Those fees have reached a point they now more than double the actual fine.

“It was both an attempt to dodge insurance points and to dodge the court fees imposed by the state,” said Howard Duvall, the former longtime director of the Municipal Association of South Carolina.

In court, judges often reduced the town fine in an effort to buffer the motorist from the state fees, which judges have no authority to alter, said Warren Harley, a lobbyist for the municipal association. That meant less revenue for towns.

Legal hurdles

Local careless-driving laws have been under scrutiny for years. A series of legal opinions from the state attorney general’s office sounded warnings.

The former state Highways and Public Transportation Department warned municipalities Oct. 7, 1987, about using local tickets against speeders. All tickets should be written under state law and points should not be waived, the department advised.

Still, the debate about such tickets continues.

As recently as four years ago, the state police training academy asked the attorney general whether all traffic tickets had to be written as state-law violations. Yes, they were told in a Nov. 14, 2006, opinion, which wavered when the academy asked whether local laws were outright illegal or whether cities and towns could be fined for writing their own tickets.

“Until a court rules, it appears that a municipal careless-operation … ordinance should be presumed valid,” the opinion states.

Troubled past

State audits of ticket fines collected by local governments turned up problems in several municipalities. The Beaufort County town of Bluffton made headlines.

Three years of audits through April 2006 found Bluffton police were improperly writing tickets that kept the violations from DMV and the fine money in the city. Insurance companies said that practice results in good drivers’ subsidizing the premiums of bad ones because the driving records misrepresent the risk that poor drivers pose.

Bluffton’s bookkeeping was so poor that the state finally had to guesstimate that the city owed it $700,000. Bluffton hired a well-connected attorney, former Department of Revenue director Burnie Maybank, to negotiate the final figure.

The chief in the Kershaw County town of Bethune was convicted in 1993 of embezzling, misconduct in office and obstruction of justice for abusing the process.

Then-Chief Charles Williams was stopping motorists for speeding and offering to let them pay fines up to $115 in cash or personal checks instead of a state-law ticket that also imposed points on the records, a prosecutor said at the time.

Williams used the money to gamble on video poker machines, the prosecutor said.


TOPICS: Business/Economy; Culture/Society; Government; News/Current Events; US: South Carolina
KEYWORDS: donutwatch; southcarolina; tickets

1 posted on 03/08/2011 4:27:56 AM PST by DeaconBenjamin
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To: DeaconBenjamin
This is just a pure invitation to abuse and corruption. Police have become mobile tax collectors and, like the changing of the timing on yellow and red lights,the emphasis is not on safety, but on how to collect more revenue.
2 posted on 03/08/2011 4:34:30 AM PST by Truth29
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To: Truth29

Government motto at all levels: We will take your money.

So, Citizen, shut up, get to work and pay your taxes.

Purely pathetic.


3 posted on 03/08/2011 4:39:14 AM PST by hal ogen (1st amendment or reeducation camp?)
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To: Truth29

tell me more about the changing timing on yellow and red lights. something I’ve noticed too. And gotten one ticket from.


4 posted on 03/08/2011 4:40:26 AM PST by supremedoctrine (Come closer. I want to get a better look at you.)
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To: Truth29
I agree. Another example of “all your money belongs to us” mentality. It should be illegal for any government entity to finance themselves with the proceeds of fines from any source. Make them return it to the taxpayers.
5 posted on 03/08/2011 4:43:50 AM PST by bitterohiogunclinger (Proudly casting a heavy carbon footprint as I clean my guns ---)
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To: DeaconBenjamin

How does one challenge a “warning” in court?


6 posted on 03/08/2011 4:48:56 AM PST by SpaceBar
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To: Truth29
This is just a pure invitation to abuse and corruption.

"38 in a 35? Oh, I'll just give you a warning ticket. Don't worry, it's not going to put points on your license."
7 posted on 03/08/2011 4:49:06 AM PST by Renderofveils (My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music. - Nabokov)
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To: DeaconBenjamin

“The State” is South Carolina.


8 posted on 03/08/2011 4:52:40 AM PST by bvw
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To: DeaconBenjamin
What ever happened to bake sales and spaghetti dinners?
9 posted on 03/08/2011 4:53:18 AM PST by Ramcat (Thank You American Veterans)
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To: DeaconBenjamin

Maryland has been doing stuff like this for decades, it’s standard : Red light cameras, speeding cameras, excuse court where they always drop the points on first offense.


10 posted on 03/08/2011 5:00:10 AM PST by sickoflibs ("It's not the taxes, the redistribution is the federal spending=tax delayed")
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To: DeaconBenjamin

Shakedown by gangster government.


11 posted on 03/08/2011 5:12:22 AM PST by 668 - Neighbor of the Beast
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To: DeaconBenjamin

Can you pay ahead, sort of like a buyout?

Things should get interesting when cops are riding with a couple of grand in cash. At least it should take some of the pressure off of the pizza delivery guys and cabbies.


12 posted on 03/08/2011 5:14:25 AM PST by WinMod70
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To: DeaconBenjamin

Challenge every speeding, parking and “careless” driving ticket. All the time. Plead not guilty in court and attack the cop’s eyesight, intelligence, ancestry and equipment. Study traffic laws before your appearance. There are dozens of loopholes in these laws. Find one and use it. Don’t be a sheep led to the fascist slaughter.

Make stuff up. Cops do. If the municipal court offers a jury trial, take it. You’ll likely win because every juror hates traffic tickets.

This will clog the courts and take the stupid cops/thieves off the roads. This will stress the system and break it.

Vote out all the fascist clowns in local governments. Then after patriots are in power, shut down the traffic courts. Serious misdemeanors and felonies involving vehicles can be handled in the state circuit court.

Elect a constitiutional sheriff. Form up a 2,000 man volunteer auxiliary deputy force for “emergencies.”

Study your state’s open meetings law. It allows local citizens to indict, fine and imprison left wing rats in local governments. Use it.

We’re at war, dammit. Protect your family and neighborhoods with your vote and measured actions. We need to start a thousand brushfires all over this country. Challenging fascist traffic tickets is something you can do locally without risking your job or freedom.

Get to work.


13 posted on 03/08/2011 5:15:46 AM PST by sergeantdave (The democrat party is a seditious organization and must be outlawed)
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To: bvw

That is correct.


14 posted on 03/08/2011 5:23:49 AM PST by DeaconBenjamin (A trillion here, a trillion there, soon you're NOT talking real money)
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To: DeaconBenjamin

If I were an insurance exec, I would find a way to access records to raise rates of policy holders, irrespective of “points”.


15 posted on 03/08/2011 5:37:58 AM PST by G Larry
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To: DeaconBenjamin

What’s next?

Tickets for stopping to fast at a yellow light? (To avoid a red light ticket.)


16 posted on 03/08/2011 5:43:46 AM PST by CPOSharky (After Monday and Tuesday, even the calendar says WTF.)
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To: sergeantdave

I like the way you think.


17 posted on 03/08/2011 5:48:02 AM PST by Lurker (The avalanche has begun. The pebbles no longer have a vote.)
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To: G Larry

All you would have to do is a line for “Warning tickets the last five years?” s/


18 posted on 03/08/2011 6:34:48 AM PST by cameraeye (A happy kufir!)
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To: DeaconBenjamin

It’s not about revenue. It’s about safety.


19 posted on 03/08/2011 6:39:33 AM PST by MileHi ( "It's coming down to patriots vs the politicians." - ovrtaxt)
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To: MileHi

Ha ha ha...

Good thing I wasn’t drinking my coffee when I read your post.

You funny!


20 posted on 03/08/2011 6:50:56 AM PST by Responsibility2nd (Yes, as a matter of fact, what you do in your bedroom IS my business.)
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To: DeaconBenjamin

Soooooooo, every motorist going one mile above the speed limit would get charged $150.00 and not get anything on the books. I see corruption all over this policy.

Ka ching. Ka ching. Ka ching. Ka ching. Ka ching. Ka ching. Ka ching. Ka ching. Ka ching. Ka ching. Ka ching. Ka ching.


21 posted on 03/08/2011 7:12:05 AM PST by Arrowhead1952 ($5.00 fuel prices will kill the economy and make people dump zero.)
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To: DeaconBenjamin

I would think that police officers have to be getting sick and tired of being used as uniformed toll collectors. It is totally undermining whatever legitimate authority they had left.


22 posted on 03/08/2011 7:23:45 AM PST by Buckeye McFrog
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To: sergeantdave
Missouri passed the “Macks Creek” (an infamous speed trap) law which limits total city revenue from traffic tickets to 45% of the total. It is full of loopholes so the department of revenue which is suppose to pass the over the limit fine $ on to schools has never done so.

How about a ballot imitative in every state, one which would close the loopholes and take the financial incentive away from cities and states?

Article on Macks Creek law:http://www.stltoday.com/news/article_cdc4e8c1-4243-5d2b-96c3-487bda8bb60b.html

23 posted on 03/08/2011 7:45:27 AM PST by fungoking (Tis a blessing to live in the Ozarks.)
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To: DeaconBenjamin

Isn’t that called extortion? I think they probably do that in Mexico and every other banana boat republic.


24 posted on 03/08/2011 7:47:48 AM PST by Georgia Girl 2 (The only purpose of a pistol is to fight your way back to the rifle you should never have dropped.)
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To: Truth29
This is just a pure invitation to abuse and corruption. Police have become mobile tax collectors and, like the changing of the timing on yellow and red lights,the emphasis is not on safety, but on how to collect more revenue.

WORTH REPEATING.... They already do this they just call it going to court and having them revise the ticket to a non moving violation. This way they copllect even more money. @ssholes. I go to court Thuursday for 45 in a 40.... grrrr

25 posted on 03/08/2011 8:30:50 AM PST by Moleman
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To: Moleman

If it is a radar gun violation, make them show the calibration results and the date of the last certification (depending on your state’s requirements). Sometimes, there is also a requirement for operator training that the police often don’t meet.


26 posted on 03/08/2011 9:23:00 AM PST by Truth29
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To: DeaconBenjamin
“I’m thinking revenue — by taking it out of Big Insurance and putting it in the coffers of the state of South Carolina,” said Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Richland, and one of the bill’s two sponsors.

WTF? Honestly...

27 posted on 03/09/2011 6:24:35 AM PST by TankerKC (Confucius say, he who rushes to vote on bill before reading, might forget severability clause.)
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