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Rice-Ruiz Legislation to Allow Community Service in Lieu of Motor Vehicle Surcharges for Unemployed Advances

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TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senator Ronald L. Rice and Senator 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-1585, 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.

“Individuals affected by this unfortunate situation find themselves caught between a rock and a hard place. They don’t have the means to pay for the surcharges they owe because they are not working, but the penalties only increase with time. And without a license, it becomes even more difficult to find and keep a job,” said Senator Rice (D-Essex). “It’s a perpetual cycle, and this program offers an alternative means to pay up for the debt and allows these individuals to become contributing members in their communities.”

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.

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.

“In many instances, residents whose driving privileges have been revoked are less likely to be able to find gainful employment. This program will offer an alternative to the hefty surcharges that can be crippling for some and will provide a second chance to those who are struggling to make ends meet,” added Senator Ruiz.

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 a vote of 26-11. It next heads to the Assembly for consideration.