State law restricts administrative ticketing
PARK RAPIDS -- A new Minnesota law governing the issuance of administrative traffic citations almost guarantees Hubbard County authorities won't be ticketing speeding motorists to fill county coffers with infraction revenue.
The 2009 law is cumbersome, restrictive and not politically wise, says Hubbard County Sheriff Frank Homer.
For one, the law states administrative tickets can be written only for speeding violations under 10 mph over the speed limit, basically 1 to 9 miles an hour over.
So if a little old lady with a lead tootsie happens to be driving her Park Avenue 32 in a 30 mph zone, Homer puts it this way: "Are these the people we want to be pulling off the roads?"
Not if you're planning on running for re-election.
Homer said aside from the politics, the county is better served taking the real violators, persons traveling way over the speed limit that probably have been drinking, off the roadways.
The law specifies only three instances where administrative tickets can be written: minor speeding violations, stop sign violations and equipment violations.
But there are other reasons Homer said his squad probably won't issue the tickets. There's not a significant revenue stream coming from the citations, contrary to popular belief.
An administrative citation brings a $60 fine. The state would take $20 of that off the top in a two-thirds, one-third split, according to the State Auditor.
The issuing entity would have to set up administrative panels in case the little old lady contested her ticket.
That cost would come out of the county's share of the remaining fine money.
Counties would have to pay an impartial person or panel of persons to hear appeals of any motorist's citation. Such appeals would not be heard in District Court.
And Homer and Chief Deputy Jerry Tatro envision numerous appeals if people are going to get nailed for traveling 1 or 2 miles over the posted speed limit. It could tie up an officer's time giving testimony.
A companion law, also effective Aug. 1, does not allow cops to cut speeders some slack, so motorists pulled over can now save their breath trying to argue authorities down.
Homer said the second law would effectively remove any incentive an officer would have to ticket someone going 70 in a 55 mph zone, but write an administrative citation for 64 mph to give the county the revenue. But it also removes a time-honored tradition of cops cutting speeders some slack.
Officers are no longer allowed to use discretion in how much over the speed limit a motorist is traveling, Homer said. It can cost them their badges. It's now illegal for an officer to lower the amount of the speeding violation to give the motorist a break on the fine.
On Aug. 1, the date the law went into effect, Wadena County Sheriff Mike Carr instructed his deputies to stop writing the administrative citations. The department had been doing it for years.
"The state's tied our hands on doing them, put a lot of requirements on it," he said. "We were receiving 100 percent of the fees on them" in the past and now must share the revenue.
Carr said the kinder, gentler administrative citations were supported by the public and brought much-needed revenue to the county in the wake of cuts to Local Government Aid.
"I think we brought in $15,000 up until August," Carr said. "Out of that $15,000 I think there was only one or two times somebody didn't pay (their fine) and then we sent them out a state citation."
But the citations nevertheless got the speeding message across to motorists, Carr believes.
"Deputies felt the fines (for state tickets) were way too hefty for them," he said. "They didn't agree with the fact that charging somebody for 15-20 miles over the speed limit, writing them up, then getting a $130 fine and it affects your insurance," was the best way to enforce the speed limits.
He said his officers used their discretion in deciding to issue a ticket or citation.
"We all agreed that the first or maybe the second time it wouldn't go on your record, you'd get an administrative citation and it wouldn't affect your insurance," he said. "It was a lot more pleasurable to deal with people because they were more acceptable to the fact that they were going to get a $70 fine instead or a $130 fine."
The Wadena County department was able to track the administrative citations even though they were not reported to the state. They didn't affect a driver's record.
Carr said deputies explained the procedure to a speeding driver; "they'd also let them know 100 percent of this goes to your county so it's going back into the county coffers, back into our general fund."
Most speeders willingly accepted the citation, forfeited the fine without going to court and didn't argue their case on the roadside.
Both sheriffs say they will continue to write state citations, but when most traffic is traveling 5 to 10 miles above any posted speed limit, it's hard to pull everyone over.
"You'll probably get an officer's, a state trooper's attention going 10-15 miles over," Carr said. "It's a gray area. You could get stopped by one of my guys going 9 over but ..."
Park Rapids Police Chief Terry Eilers said his officers won't be issuing the administrative citations. The administrative cost to keep track of them and forward the paperwork to the state, to staff the review panels and defend the stops at those panels, just aren't worth it, he reasoned, for such minor stops.
"It's too picky," Eilers said.
Tatro and Homer said the Hubbard County department wants to enforce public safety, but not at the risk of angering the public.
There are limits, they say, and deputies must use discretion on the roads.
Carr said it's the state's removal of that discretion that prompted his change of policy.