ANNAPOLIS – Advocates for safer roads and medical funding testified Tuesday in favor of the Driver Responsibility Act, a bill to impose fees and surcharges on drivers who accumulate five or more points in three years or who are convicted of alcohol- or drug-related offenses.
But at the same Budget and Taxation Committee hearing, the measure met opposition from Maryland Department of Transportation representatives, who said the bill would create a large administrative burden.
Sen. Rob Garagiola, D-Montgomery, said he introduced the measure to promote public safety, increase health care funding and help raise badly needed revenue for the state. There are 10 total sponsors to the legislation.
The measure would also establish the Medical Assistance Program Fund.
Twenty-five percent of the revenue generated by the surcharges would go into the program fund, with the balance devoted to the state’s general fund.
The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene would then use the money from the Medical Assistance Program Fund to obtain federal matching funds, Garagiola said. All the money would ultimately fund Medicaid or the Maryland Children’s Health Insurance Program.
“It’s a win-win to reduce the of number of fatalities that we have in Maryland due to traffic accidents, it’s a win as far as revenues to try to deal with medical assistance which is paying for a lot of these accidents and it’s a win to try to get other revenues to try to deal with our fiscal situation,” Garagiola said.
The bill is modeled after a similar system in New Jersey, which imposes bad driving surcharges and in 2003 raised $134 million for the state.
DOT testimony said there was a difference between Garagiola’s bill and Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s transportation bill, now in the Senate, which would impose surcharges on drunken-driving convictions and moving violations.
In Garagiola’s measure, accumulating six points would result in a $100 fine, followed by $25 fines for every point above that.
Drunken-driving convictions would draw a $1,000 fine. Second and third offenses would cost $1,500 and $2,500.
The measure is inconsistent and would not generate as much revenue as New Jersey, said DOT testimony.
Still, proponents overlooked flaws in the bill and praised it for raising new funds for medical care in Maryland.
Pegeen A. Townsend, the Maryland Hospital Association’s senior vice president for legislative policy, spoke in favor of the bill, saying it would essentially double money available for medical funding.
“Dedicating a portion of the revenues raised to the health care system will help ensure that critically necessary services are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Townsend said in written testimony.
Other proponents, like Ann Ciekot, want to see the revenue generated by the new fines to go into drug or alcohol rehabilitation and treatment programs for offenders.
The Budget and Tax Committee could determine how to use the money that would go to the general fund, Garagiola said.
Members of the committee raised similar concerns and were also receptive to DOT concerns of increasing the Motor Vehicle Administration’s workload and claims that the measure would not be in the best interest of highway safety.
Department of Transportation documents submitted to the committee said that the proposal would levy fees on about 66,100 people a year, which would cost the MVA more than $1.3 million in the first year of operation. The costs include 29 positions that would need to be added to run the program.