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Traffic ticket programs under fire

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ST. PAUL — Seven Minnesota counties and 10 cities continue to offer a program allowing motorists to take driving safety classes and keep minor traffic tickets from going on their records, even though the state auditor says the Legislature must first authorize the programs and a Wabasha County judge earlier this month ruled programs in his area are illegal.

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Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, is offering legislation to penalize local governments that continue the programs.

“Make no mistake, the local units of government that profited from these illegal programs did so out of greed,” said Drazkowski, who lives in Wabasha County and has been embroiled in a political battle there surrounding the “traffic citation diversion” program.

The lawmaker’s bill would force governments to refund money drivers paid to take the classes and slap fines on programs that continue.

Drazkowski said the local governments conducting the programs keep the profits. He said the Wabasha County program that stopped after the judge's ruling charged $125 for the class, the highest in the state.

A law he helped pass in 2009 also would give motorists a way to keep minor traffic infractions off their records, and thus out of insurance companies’ sight. That law allows a motorist to pay a $60 fine to keep the ticket off a driver’s record, but does not require a class.

Under his law, local governments and the state share the $60 fine.

The 2009 state law gives motorists a way to contest tickets, but Drazkowski said the ones he calls illegal have no such provision.

Many cities and counties dropped or suspended their diversion programs after the early-January court hearing.

Norman County Sheriff Jeremy Thornton said that after discussing the practice with their county attorney, officials suspended their practice of giving courses. He said officials will wait to see what the Legislature does.

Red Wing also halted its program to be on the safe side.

“At this point, our program is legal,” Red Wing Council President Lisa Bayley said.

Provisions of the Red Wing program were not identical to the one in Wabasha County, which also served Lake City, Plainview and the city of Wabasha.

“Certainly the conservative approach would be to stop the program and see how it all plays out,” Red Wing City Attorney Amy Mace said.

Executive Director James Franklin of the Minnesota Sheriffs’ Association said that the programs’ classes are effective. Sheriffs support diversion programs and feel they are legal, he added.

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Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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