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VOL. 35 | NO. 25 | Friday, June 24, 2011




Traffic tickets to cost Tennesseans more

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NASHVILLE (AP) — Tennesseans could be charged up to nearly $70 more for traffic tickets under a new state law that takes effect next month and is intended to fund crime lab services for law enforcement agencies.

The law that takes effect July 1 adds $13.75 onto each traffic violation, and motorists can be cited for as many as five violations on a single ticket. The fee applies only to people who chose not to contest their tickets in court and pay the fine before a court date or a compliance date.

Proceeds will help offset the costs of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation's crime lab services.

But motorists complain the extra charge is too much on top of already expensive fines.

Sen. Randy McNally, a Republican from Oak Ridge, sponsored the legislation, which he said was necessary to prevent massive TBI layoffs or increased costs to local law enforcement agencies that need the lab services to investigate crimes.

Kristin Helm, a spokeswoman for the TBI, told The Tennessean that the agency had to cut $4 million from its budget last year and needed additional revenue to keep crime lab agents. The agency had considered charging local law enforcement agencies for submitting evidence and completing DNA testing.

But citing their own budget shortfalls, the local governments asked for help from the Tennessee Municipal League, which proposed the fee on traffic violations.

Kevin Borgman drives a tractor-trailer for a living and recently was cited for driving in a no-truck zone. He visited the Davidson County Traffic Violations Bureau on Thursday to pay his $92 ticket, but said he doesn't see why his traffic ticket should pay for evidence analysis at a state crime lab.

"It's just a racket," Borgman said.

Another motorist, Ashley Gittens, was at the office paying a $150 speeding ticket and was discouraged to learn about the new fee. But she said it might work to encourage safer driving.

"It's already expensive, and I just disagree completely," she said. "It will reduce speeding slightly, I guess."

Helm said without the additional funding, "a large portion of the state crime lab would have been shut down, no longer processing evidence for the judicial system."

The state crime labs performed 285,000 tests on 85,000 pieces of evidence last year.

Rex Barton, a police consultant with the University of Tennessee Municipal Technical Advisory Service who worked on the legislation, said there is already an existing $13.75 state litigation tax charged to defendants who are found guilty or pay a fine. Those motorists who were paying their traffic tickets instead of contesting them in court were not paying that tax in some cities, Barton said.

He said adding a fee of an equal amount levels the playing field.

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