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Grant County Deputy Sheriff Troy Langley testifies in front of a Minnesota House committee Tuesday, March 18, in favor of a bill allowing local governments to establish education programs to replace traffic tickets for some offenders. With him is Jim Franklin, representing sheriffs and police chiefs. FORUM NEWS SERVICE/Don Davis

Minnesota committee OKs classes instead of fines for minor traffic violations

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ST. PAUL -- Local Minnesota governments could offer classes instead of fines to drivers ticketed for minor traffic violations, a House transportation committee decided Tuesday.

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On a unanimous vote, the committee approved a bill by Rep. Jay McNamar, D-Elbow Lake, to let cities and counties establish driving safety classes that violators could take instead of a traffic ticket being placed on their records.

“It's just a great way to keep the streets safe,” McNamar said.

Grant County Deputy Sheriff Troy Langley said a program his office ran before a judge ruled a similar one was illegal taught those who attended about traffic safety.

If someone just pays a ticket, he asked, “what did you really learn?”

Rep. David FitzSimmons, R-Albertville, said he took a class after receiving a speeding ticket. If nothing else, he said spending the time in class robbed him of time, a reason not to get another ticket.

Jim Franklin said that sheriffs and police chiefs he represents prefer education to writing tickets.

Beverly Snow of Zumbro Falls told the committee that local governments operating classes “pocketed the revenues,” and in some cases did little to educate drivers.

After a judge ruled that classes in Wabasha County were not legal alternatives to a tickets, most counties and cities in the state that offered them have stopped.

The committee approved the McNamar bill with little discussion. It must pass another committee before getting a full House vote. A similar bill is advancing in the Senate, sponsored by Sen. Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake.

Drivers would be required to pay for classes, and local governments could keep most of the money.

McNamar's bill would give some drivers the option of paying the normal traffic fine or taking a class. Those who qualify for classes would include drivers who are ticketed for most speeding violations, running a red light, improper passing, illegally using an electronic device, failure to yield and similar traffic violations.

Local governments would be allowed to provide the classes, but not the state. Local governing bodies would be required to pass resolutions and set fees for the classes, as well as letting the state Public Safety Department know about the action.

A law enforcement officer in a jurisdiction offering classes who gives a driver a ticket would be required to give the driver information about the class.

A driver taking the class would need to pass it to avoid having the violation appear on their record.

Fees collected for classes must be used for traffic safety programs.

Drivers with commercial licenses may not take part in the diversion class program.

Wabasha County Sheriff Rodney Bartsch said that “sometimes people feel all government does is take,” but he heard lots of positive reaction when the county offered the classes.

“It gives them a different feeling about their tax dollars,” he told the committee.

Don Davis, INFORUM

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