The 1870s Called: It Wants Overreaching Virginia Legislature Back

January 29, 2008

In a rush to relieve Virginia motorists of steep “abusive driver fees,” state legislators have run head-on into a 130-year-old Virginia State Supreme Court case that is thwarting their attempts. The controversial law passed last year requires drivers charged with abusive driving to pay heightened charges (taxes) to the state. They are currently charged in three installments over the space of three years and range from $750 to $3,050.

The repeal of the highly unpopular law appears to be a virtual certainty but the Washington Post reports that refunding money paid by those already assessed is being held up by Ratcliffe v. Anderson (Va. 1878), which states that the legislature “oversteps its authority when it passes legislation to invalidate or otherwise reopen a court judgment or decrees.” The court’s decision effectively prevents any retroactive action by the legislature in stopping the collection of the tax already owed.

One possibility being discussed is to grant refunds of the tax paid only after complete payment. This would require taxpayers to pay the repealed tax, and then receive it as a refund. That is at least in harmony with the Court’s decisions. But a refund troubles some lawmakers who oppose writing checks to drunk drivers convicted of killing someone during the last year.

Although the long-standing case throws a wrench into the well-designed plans of the lawmakers, it appears that an all-out effort will be employed to side-step the case law and repeal last year’s bad legislation that became worse law:

The House also wrestled Monday over what to do about those who are already paying the fees. House Democrats pushed for an amendment that would allow them not to pay. But the Republican majority, citing many of the same concerns that came up in the Senate, rejected the idea.

Our recent wrap-up of their likely repeal is here.

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