Fewer unpaid parking tickets could trigger block of license renewal

By STEPHEN OLSCHANSKI
Capital News Service

LANSING — Drivers in Michigan with unpaid parking tickets might be given a break by the Secretary of State when it comes to license renewal if current state law reverts back to an earlier, tougher form.

The Secretary of State can refuse to renew your license if you have three unpaid parking tickets. A bill that recently passed the Senate would keep that number from reverting back to six, which is slated to happen Jan. 1.

The original bill was given a sunset, meaning the law and its three-ticket threshold would expire Jan. 1. If it does, lawmakers believe cities will not be able to effectively collect unpaid fees because there won’t be a big-enough incentive for drivers to pay their tickets.

Cities often use ticket revenues to pay for public safety and city services. Collecting more fees would provide higher revenue for the services.

“(The bill) just removes that sunset so we can continue to have the program in place which helps our cities collect unpaid parking tickets and make sure people are responsible, when they break the law, that they are doing their due diligence on the fines they have occurred,” said Sen. Dave Hildenbrand, R-Lowell.

A law in 2012 established the three-ticket minimum and was sponsored by Hildenbrand, who is sponsoring the bill to keep it that way.

“So every four years you have to renew your license. What the bill allowed the Secretary of State to do, when they send out your driver’s license renewal and you had three unpaid parking tickets, they would basically just say ‘hey, you can’t renew your driver’s license until you get this taken care of,’” Hildenbrand said.

Grand Rapids, which pioneered the program, has had success with the law, city officials say.

That city wrote off approximately $1.2 million in unpaid tickets before the state law was passed, City Treasurer John Globensky said. Since 2012 when the law passed, the city wrote off only another $275,000 as more people paid their tickets because of the law.

“After six years the city can no longer collect on a ticket,” Globensky said.  Grand Rapids was losing money it could use for public safety and services.

The law has shifted the burden of collection to the district court in Grand Rapids, Globensky said. When a person renews his or her license, the Secretary of State can see that the court has placed a hold on that renewal until the fines are paid.

Furthermore, the Secretary of State will also issue a $45 license clearance fee after the tickets have been paid, but the clearance fee could also be waived by the court.

A Senate Fiscal Agency analysis found that Grand Rapids sent $2.8 million in unpaid parking tickets to the courts and 81 percent of the costs were collected because of the bill.

A House fiscal impact analysis found that if the law were not enacted, drivers would have less incentive to pay their outstanding tickets.  And the Secretary of State could lose more revenue if the $45 clearance fee goes away.

While lowering the threshold from six tickets to three boosted revenue for public safety and city services by prompting more people to pay their fines, it was also about giving people a chance to take care of their outstanding tickets.

“It’s just kind of a nudge for people to take care of their unpaid parking tickets because, really, municipalities, especially our big municipalities, didn’t have a way to enforce these collections,” Hildenbrand said.

A sunset on Hildebrand’s bill to lower the ticket trigger from six to three was first put in place as a review method to see if the policy worked for cities. The policy is optional, Globensky said. Not all cities use the policy.

“All of the feedback was that it was working fine, it was accomplishing the goals of making sure people were taking care of their outstanding liabilities,” Hildenbrand said.