A Minnesota state lawmaker has proposed legislation that would effectively shut down safe driving classes offered throughout the state as an alternative to traffic tickets, and refund the money drivers have paid for the classes.

“This is a very, very serious matter.” said Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa. “Others have described these programs as racketeering, embezzlement and extortion. We have to realize that serious transgressions call for serious consequences.”

Drazkowski’s bill comes on the heels of a Wabasha County Judge’s ruling that deemed the county’s safe driving programs illegal after two county commissioners sued, alleging that law enforcement for years flouted a state law that prohibits such classes. After the ruling, several of the 36 similar programs followed suit and shut down their programs to avoid similar lawsuits. Others remain active.

Diversion programs like Wabasha County’s allow motorists to keep traffic violations off their driving records in exchange for paying to take a class. From 2010 to 2012, the classes raised about $1.6 million for the jurisdictions that ran them, according to a report by Minnesota State Auditor Rebecca Otto. However, for a decade Otto warned that such programs were illegal because the proceeds weren’t shared with the state, as they would be with a traffic citation, and that the violations were kept off the books.

Drazkowski said making the programs illegal could result in jurisdictions adopting a more reasonable alternative passed by the Legislature in 2009 with administrative traffic citations, which are limited to some low-level traffic offenses. Motorists pay a $60 file. Two thirds of that are kept locally, while $20 goes to the state. Three counties and 46 cities use the program, Drazkowski said.

Drazkowski said such administrative citations are not only above board, but more reasonable than the safe driving classes, which he said are motivated by local law enforcement’s desire to pocket all the profits.
“This is a greedy activity and we’ve said it’s illegal,” he said. “It is time for the government to follow the law.”

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