Driver’s license bill hits snag

Advocate file photo -- The Louisiana state capitol in Baton Rouge. Show caption
Advocate file photo -- The Louisiana state capitol in Baton Rouge.

A bill that would change the way “habitual” traffic offenders are notified their driver’s license is targeted for suspension was shelved in a state House committee Monday amid criticism.

The proposal, House Bill 960, would allow the state to notify the driver by certified mail, with a return receipt, that he or she was being classified as a habitual traffic offender.

The recipient then has the right to contest the state’s claim during a review hearing before an administrative hearing officer.

The plan differs with the current notification procedure, which requires a state trooper or safety officer for the state Department of Public Safety to issue the notification in person.

State Rep. Ray Garofalo, R-Chalmette, and sponsor of HB960, said the change is designed to streamline state operations.

Garofalo added a wide range of other state notices are handled by certified mail.

Critics charged that relying on mail to send the notice would carry risks and that someone else at the home could sign for the letter without word getting to the intended recipient.

State Rep. Terry Brown, No Party-Colfax, was among members of the state House Transportation committee with concerns.

“I worked 42 years; my wife worked 40,” Brown said.

“We were never there. If I am not there (home) to get a certified letter, how am I going to get served?”

State officials said about 180 people are classified as habitual traffic offenders.

The notice gives those cited 30 days to say they want to challenge the findings and force a hearing before an administrative law judge, said Stephen Quidd, an attorney for the Office of Motor Vehicles.

“If the ALJ (administrative law judge) agrees with us, their driver’s license will be revoked,” Quidd said.

State Rep. H. Bernard LeBas, D-Ville Platte, said the change boosted chances that dangerous drivers would remain on the road.

“You are dealing with someone who looks like a threat to the highways,” LeBas said.

Drivers who accumulate 10 specified moving violations over a three-year period are subject to suspension or revocation of their driver’s license, state officials said.

Three serious offenses in a limited time frame, such as manslaughter, can also trigger classification as a habitual offender.

Nancy J. Goodwin, a Baton Rouge attorney, said the bill would reverse the burden of proof to the driver targeted by the state to show that computer driving records are off the mark.

“This person is going to have to be the one disputing a computer record,” Goodwin said.

“Please try to figure out a different way,” she said. “There is nothing wrong with the procedure now.”

Garofalo asked the committee to shelve his bill in hopes he can work out a compromise.