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Driving diversion program possibility

Published (3/13/2009)
By Mike Cook
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John Choi estimates that about one-third of the 15,000 cases prosecuted each year by the St. Paul City Attorney’s Office are related to driving without a valid license.

Some of these people want to get valid, but for various reasons, such as limited finances, they are unable to do so, said Choi, the city attorney. A bill sponsored by Rep. John Lesch (DFL-St. Paul) could help.

Held over March 10 by the House Public Safety Policy and Oversight Committee for possible omnibus bill inclusion, HF589 would create a pilot diversion program for people who have been charged with driving after suspension or revocation, but have not yet entered a plea.

A companion, SF847, sponsored by Sen. Yvonne Prettner Solon (DFL-Duluth), awaits action by the Senate Finance Committee.

“The most important part of this bill is the carrot, which is the individual who would be diverted into this program would get a valid license,” Choi said. “We typically tell the individual, ‘You need to get yourself valid, you need to pay the fines and good luck.’”

Participants would need to maintain insurance, make regular payments toward the outstanding fines and complete a class that will teach things like life and financial management skills. There would be no expense to the taxpayer because offenders would pay for program costs, which could be done in installments.

Five cities would be eligible to take part in the pilot program: Duluth, St. Paul, South St. Paul, West St. Paul and Inver Grove Heights. If successful, it could be expanded.

“It’s a long-term solution to get people out of the revolving door of having a driving-after-suspension citation, because if they simply pay the citation, they get suspended again. And they continue to drive because they continue to need to get to work, to pick up the kids, or get groceries, so they’ll get another driving after suspension citation. This will teach them how to get out of the system and stay out of it,” said Kori Land, city attorney for the three Dakota County cities asking to be part of the program.

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