8/10/2017 4:32:00 PM County Driver Awareness Program killed by legislative pressure
Maybe you were one of the hundreds to have been given the option the last few years of attending an evening driver education session, in exchange for a ticket for a minor speeding or other non-lethal driving offense.
For $75 an offender agrees to attend a refresher course in safe driving habits and insurers are non-the-wiser. The county deputy or city officer who ticketed you-- kept you out of court and your reduced fee covered costs for the course.
Alas-- the Driver Awareness Program directional sign posted on the front door of the Government Center came down and it won’t be advising people to the lower level of the building for evening DAP class anymore. The program was discontinued and not by choice.
Sheriff Rick Duncan said if it wouldn’t have cost more to sustain the DAP than it was generating, he and the county attorney would have fought for it.
State lawmakers in the last session in the Tax Bill, decided to link DAP revenues to county program aid and reduce state aid by how much ticket revenue the state “lost” to DAP fines. Ticket revenue used to be split with courts, ticket writing agency and State of Minnesota dividing the fine.
The state was upset about losing ticket revenue and there was also an argument that bad drivers might be getting off too easy.
The financial risk to the county for operating the Driver Awareness Program became too great with the recent legislation passage and the county attorney and sheriff decided to discontinue the DAP. As County Attorney Janet Reiter put it, “The risk outweighed the benefit at this point.”
Sheriff Duncan said it got to the point Chisago County was all alone in offering the option and he said it would be like having a target on the county’s back going solo.
Any driver already recommended into the DAP will have the opportunity to finish his or her required attendance; but as of now, no more DAP referrals can be made by law enforcement in Chisago County. County Attorney Reiter said this was a sanction the county wasn’t willing to absorb. For one thing the legislation is vague on the time period that cuts will be tied to. The reimbursement the county would pay could be retroactive, and state program aid certainly will be impacted out into the future.
There were at least four counties, including Chisago, and several metro-area cities that continued to offer the DAP, even after a January 2014 ruling by a District Court Judge it was not legal.
Sheriff Duncan defended the program and said it was empowering for officers who could decide to write a DAP referral or not, and there is no law that an officer MUST issue a ticket for a non-criminal violation. Citations have always been subject to officer-discretion. An offender was not allowed in if they were speeding excessively or ticketed in a school zone or other limiting factors.
The DAP was well-received and it got good reviews, said the sheriff. People walked out of class saying they had learned valuable information and appreciated the deputies’ efforts and style of teaching. Reiter agreed this is why the program was utilized. “Changing behviors and providing education has always been our aim in offering this.”