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Bill would give drivers a break

February 20, 2002

Bill would give drivers a break



By LAURA ERNDE
laure@herald-mail.com


A Washington County resident's $7 parking ticket ended up costing him $62 within one month, prompting a local lawmaker to introduce legislation to give drivers more time to pay their tickets before the fines go up.

Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, said the state should abide by the same limits on late fees it has placed on private businesses.

"I think it's a basic issue of fairness," he told fellow members of the House Commerce and Government Matters Committee at a hearing Tuesday.

Local governments are fighting the proposal. Hagerstown City Police Capt. Jack Moulton was among those who testified against the bill.

"Leave this a locally managed issue," Moulton said.

Shank said he got the idea for the bill from a constituent who didn't want to be named.

The man got a parking ticket in downtown Hagerstown while testifying in court, Shank said. He forgot about the ticket and a month later the fine increased to $32, he said.

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In addition, his registration was flagged and the Motor Vehicle Administration tacked on another $30 fee to clear his record.

"That seemed to be excessive to me," Shank said.

Under Shank's proposal, local governments would have to give people 30 days to pay a ticket before tacking on extra fees. Also, the MVA would have to wait 60 days before flagging the registration of a parking scofflaw.

Moulton testified that Hagerstown and other municipalities might have to increase their parking fines if the law is passed.

"I understand that could be an unintended consequence," Shank said after the hearing.

But he said he wanted to let local government continue to set fines based on what works in each jurisdiction.

Jim Peck, a researcher for the Maryland Municipal League, testified that people will be more likely to forget about tickets if given more time to pay.

"You're going to see more people putting that ticket in their glove compartment and not responding," he said.

Shank responded to that argument after the hearing.

"I've found that when you give people an opportunity to do the right thing, they will. I'm not saying people should be allowed to go scott free. Just don't gouge them in the first 10 to 15 days," he said.

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