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Dale Wetzel, Associated Press, Published January 01 2011

Traffic tickets likely to stay cheap in ND, according to AP survey

BISMARCK – It costs $20 to run a stop sign in North Dakota, and the fines for most traffic offenses are similarly low – and the North Dakota Legislature is likely to keep them that way, an Associated Press survey indicates.

The AP survey distributed to the Legislature’s members in December by

e-mail and regular mail asked whether the state’s traffic fines were unreasonable and whether local governments should have authority to set their own.

Legislators have fought over the issue since 2007, when a West Fargo woman filed an ultimately successful federal lawsuit against Fargo that alleged the city had been charging illegally high traffic fines.

The dispute prompted a North Dakota Supreme Court ruling, which concluded the Legislature had not given cities authority to charge higher fines than the state itself collected for traffic violations. The class-action lawsuit was settled for $1.5 million, with about 14,000 overcharged drivers filing claims for fine refunds.

Lawmakers split over the issue in the AP survey, to which 114 of the Legislature’s 141 members replied – a response rate of 81 percent.

Among North Dakota senators, 20 said the state’s traffic fines were too low and should be raised, while 17 said they were “about right.” One was undecided.

In the House, 32 representatives described North Dakota’s fines as too low, while 36 said they were about right. Seven were undecided, and one representative said he believed the fines were too high and should be reduced.

The Senate’s split was similar on a separate question of whether local governments should have authority to set their own traffic fines – 20 favored the idea, 17 did not, and one was undecided. House members tilted more in favor of state control, with 40 opposing locally set traffic fines, 29 favoring them and seven undecided.

Several cities had been charging fines well above those set out in state law before the question arose about whether they had authority to do so.

Fargo, for example, slapped motorists who were nabbed running a stop sign with a $100 fine, and had a $60 penalty for drivers who were not wearing seat belts. State law carries $20 fines for both offenses.