(TRENTON) – An Assembly panel approved legislation on Thursday sponsored by Assembly Democrats Shavonda Sumter, Eliana Pintor Marin, Benjie Wimberly and Raj Mukherji to establish a program allowing certain applicants to perform community service in lieu of paying motor vehicle surcharges.
The bill (A-3335), called the “Motor Vehicle Surcharge Community Service Program,” is to be administered by the Commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development. The commissioner is to coordinate with the Chief Administrator of the Motor Vehicle Commission to waive certain motor vehicle surcharges imposed on applicants who complete a community service project in participating counties and municipalities.
“By allowing the courts to offer community service in lieu of payment for certain motor vehicle surcharges, we offer a better option to residents who can’t afford the surcharges at that time” said Sumter (D-Bergen, Passaic). “Community service may also be more fitting for certain minor offenses than jail time.”
To be eligible to participate in the program, the amended bill requires an applicant to demonstrate to the commissioner that he or she: (1) is unemployed; (2) has been assessed and is unable to pay certain motor vehicle surcharges; and (3) is enrolled in a job training or education program or is in the process of applying for a commercial driver license or endorsement.
“The legislation provides a feasible option for courts to impose on those who are unable to pay their motor vehicle surcharges,” said Pintor Marin (D-Essex). “This could prevent many residents from going into default on their surcharges and incarceration.”
“Residents who cannot pay their motor vehicle surcharges go into default and getting into more trouble over their inability to pay,” said Wimberly (D-Bergen, Passaic). “Offering community service is good way to prevent residents from ending up in the system because of overdue surcharges.”
“For some defendants, community service for first offenses could keep them out of jail by providing an alternative to surcharges they can’t afford,” said Mukherji (D-Hudson). “This legislation gives courts the flexibility to help some New Jerseyans in appropriate circumstances.”
Under bill, if the driving privilege of an applicant has been suspended for failure to pay surcharges, the chief administrator is required to reinstate the applicant’s driving privilege when the applicant commences the community service program. If an applicant fails to complete a community service project, the applicant’s total outstanding motor vehicle surcharges and any interest accrued become due immediately. In addition, the applicant’s driving privilege is to be suspended until the applicant satisfies the outstanding surcharge assessment.
The bill permits the governing body of any county or municipality to apply to the commissioner to participate in the program. Under the bill, an application for participation in the program is required to be made in accordance with procedures and on forms prescribed by the commissioner and to indicate the eligible projects for which volunteer labor is requested. Eligible community service projects include improvements to county and municipal buildings, grounds, roads, streams, and other county or municipal property.
The bill provides that the volunteer labor used by a municipality or county is not to displace or remove from employment any paid public or private employee or in any way reduce the workforce within a county or municipality. The bill further provides that a qualifying applicant is not to be denied participation in the program due to a lack of volunteer labor projects. After a person has completed a community service project under the program, the amended bill requires the chief administrator to waive all surcharges and interest levied for accumulated motor vehicle points, unsafe driving convictions, and motor vehicle violations or convictions for which points are not assessed.
The bill provides that any driver whose outstanding surcharges include levies imposed for a drunk driving conviction or refusal to submit to a blood alcohol content test are not eligible to participate in this program.
The bill was approved by the Assembly Appropriations Committee; it will now go to the Assembly Speaker for further consideration. The Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee approved the bill in October.