By David Eggert, Associated Press
LANSING (AP) - Roughly 168,000 Michigan residents are starting the new year with a chance to avoid hundreds of dollars in traffic fines by doing volunteer work instead.
Thanks to a new law taking effect Wednesday, motorists will have a one-year window in which they can get out from extra "responsibility" fees for certain offenses - having no proof of car insurance or driving without a valid license, for example. A 2012 law repealed additional penalties for those offenses, but many drivers still owe $150 to $200 in annual fines that were previously levied on them for two straight years.
The state is mailing letters to eligible motorists. To waive each qualifying assessment, a driver must complete 10 hours of community service.
"The elimination of fees for lesser driving violations removes some unintended consequences of the original law," said state Treasurer Kevin Clinton, who called the community service component "a win for everyone involved."
The law is tied to a measure that will phase out all responsibility fees over a four-year period beginning this October. Those two-year fees include $200 for having seven points on a driving record (plus $100 for each additional point); $2,000 for serious offenses such as drunken driving; and $1,000 for driving recklessly or with no insurance - a more serious but less frequently issued ticket than having no proof of insurance.
The responsibility fines were created in 2003 to get irresponsible drivers off the road and raise more money to deal with slumping state revenues. Lawmakers consider the fees unfair, however, and say they make driving and insurance more difficult to afford.
Other new laws that will go into effect Thursday or early in January include:
Buying cough and cold medicines for the purpose of making methamphetamine will be illegal under another series of measures intended to crack down on meth makers. The laws also prohibit asking someone to buy the ingredients and require state police to add meth offenders to a national database. The goal is to generate stop-sale alerts so pharmacies don't sell to people convicted of meth crimes. Pharmacists currently are warned when customers try to surpass quantity limits. A House Fiscal Agency analysis says the production of meth - a highly addictive drug whose production can result in explosions and environmental contamination - remains on the rise, especially in western Michigan.
Rape evidence may be better organized and tracked under laws designed to help ensure the kits aren't caught in the sort of backlog found when more than 11,000 untested boxes were discovered in a Detroit Police storage facility in 2009. The Sexual Assault Kit Tracking and Reporting Commission - whose members will include the state attorney general and state police director - will develop statewide guidelines to track the status of rape evidence boxes. When someone tells a health worker that she's been sexually assaulted within the last 120 hours, or five days, the employee will have to immediately inform her of the availability of a rape evidence kit. The current notification requirement is 24 hours.
A loophole will be closed so motorcyclists can no longer buy a temporary permit every riding season without taking a safety or skills test needed for a full endorsement. The 180-day permit lets motorcyclists ride during the day and without a passenger as long as they're supervised by a licensed motorcycle operator. But enforcement is difficult, and motorcycle advocates say some bikers are repeatedly getting temporary permits to avoid testing. American Bikers Aiming Toward Education (ABATE) says 58 percent of riders killed in motorcycle crashes in 2012 weren't fully licensed.
A doctor's prescription will no longer be needed to go to physical therapy. People will be able to receive treatment for 21 days or 10 treatments, whichever comes first, without a prescription. Or they can go for an unlimited number of visits if it's to prevent injury or promote fitness. Health insurers won't have to cover physical therapy services if a prescription isn't issued. Supporters say allowing direct access to physical therapy will bring Michigan in line with 48 other states and expand consumer choice, prevent delays, contain medical costs and lead to better patient outcomes.
Police will be able to conduct a preliminary roadside analysis for drugs and other intoxicating substances in addition to alcohol. A conditional bond is to be placed on motorists arrested for drugged driving and the information is to be entered into a law enforcement database.
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