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TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senators Ronald Rice, Peter J. Barnes and M. Teresa Ruiz that would allow community service in lieu of motor vehicle surcharges for the unemployed was approved today by the Senate.

The bill, S-2828, would establish a “Motor Vehicle Surcharge Community Service Program” to allow a person who is unemployed, unable to pay, but who has enrolled in an education or job training program to perform community service in lieu of paying motor vehicle surcharges.

“This program is about benefiting the community as well as individuals who are trying to overcome their own unfortunate circumstance of joblessness,” said Senator Rice (D-Essex). “Without a means to pay the surcharges they owe, the penalties will increase and this will create a perpetual burden on the unemployed. Providing an alternative means to ‘pay up’ for those who are enrolled in an education or job training program will offer them a second chance and enable them to become contributing members of society.”

Eligible community service projects would include, but are not limited to, improvements to county and municipal buildings, grounds, roads, streams, and other county or municipal property. The volunteer labor used by a municipality or county would not displace or remove from employment any paid public or private employee or in any way reduce the workforce within a county or municipality.

“Many New Jersey residents with suspended licenses can’t pay the excessive surcharges that will enable them to restore their licenses, making it difficult to keep or find a job,” said Senator Barnes (D-Middlesex). “This bill provides an alternative solution that will benefit the community as well as individuals trapped in this vicious cycle.”

The program would be administered by the Commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development, who would coordinate with the Chief Administrator of the Motor Vehicle Commission to waive motor vehicle surcharges imposed on applicants who complete a community service project in participating counties and municipalities. The bill would apply only in localities where the governing body of the county or municipality has applied for participation through the Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

“This important program offers those who are actively enrolled in an education or job training program an alternative to paying surcharges and reinstating their driver’s license by performing community service,” said Senator Ruiz (D-Essex). “The surcharges, and resulting loss of driving privileges, can be exceptionally damaging to job search and job retention efforts, especially to those who are struggling to support themselves. This measure will help those individuals get back on their feet and become productive members of their community.”

In instances where the driving privilege of an applicant has been suspended for failure to pay surcharges, the chief administrator would be required to reinstate driving privileges upon the start of the community service program. If an applicant fails to complete the community service, his or her total outstanding motor vehicle surcharges and any interest accrued would become due immediately. Additionally, the applicant’s driving privilege would be suspended until satisfying the outstanding surcharge assessment.

Drivers whose outstanding surcharges are imposed for drunk driving convictions or refusal to submit to a blood alcohol content test would not eligible to participate in this program under the bill, as well as charges for motor vehicle violations or convictions for which points are assessed.

The bill further provides that a qualifying applicant would not be denied participation in the program due to a lack of volunteer labor projects.

The bill was approved by the Senate with a vote of 32-7. It now heads to the Assembly for consideration.  

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