Spring Lake Park traffic education program now on hold

After a Wabasha County District Court judge decided the county’s traffic education program was illegal under Minnesota law, Spring Lake Park will put its planned traffic education program on the back burner.

Spring Lake Park has not implemented its program yet. The city council approved the program Dec. 16, 2013 and it was slated to begin in early January.

After the ruling came down Jan. 6, the Wabasha County Sheriff’s Office ended its program, as did some other law enforcement agencies statewide. Some programs have remained functional.

Wabasha County’s former program is very similar to the one Spring Lake Park had planned. Both would allow drivers who receive traffic citations to avoid state fines and a driving record if they take a safe driving class.

The class is optional and requires a fee, collected by local governmental units.

In Spring Lake Park, fees collected from people who enroll in the program would be split 25-75 between the city’s general fund and a new fund devoted to public safety, capital improvements, traffic calming, signage, community education and other purposes as approved by the council.

“The decision of the court down in southern Minnesota does not bind us,” City Attorney Jeff Carson said days after the court ruled,

Spring Lake Park could either wait for legislative action or press forward with the program, he said.

However, a decision to wait and see was made for the city by the vendor set to provide the online safe driving classes, according to Carson.

“Nobody wants to do anything until we find out if the Legislature’s going to act,” Carson said this week, calling the law pertaining to traffic education programs unclear.

Statute 169.999 is the primary reference on “administrative citations for certain traffic offenses.”

State Auditor Rebecca Otto produced a report in November 2013 on traffic citations and local traffic diversion programs, recommending the Legislature consider “whether local governments should be granted the authority to operate local traffic diversion programs.”

According to the report, local programs collected $1.6 million in fees between 2010 and 2012. The state collected less, $1.1 million, in those years.

Spring Lake Park is not out any money while the program is in limbo, other than the revenue it would generate.

Olivia Koester is at olivia.koester@ecm-inc.com

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