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Associated Press, Published November 14 2013

Minn. audit says driver diversion programs illegal

ST. PAUL — Driver diversion programs that give motorists the option of enrolling in a safe-driving class instead of paying a ticket for a violation are illegal, a new report from Minnesota's state auditor says.

The classes generally cost less than a ticket and the violation doesn't go on drivers' records. But Auditor Rebecca Otto said there's nothing in state law authorizing local governments to set their own driving laws, and Attorney General Lori Swanson agrees with that assessment, Minnesota Public Radio reported Thursday (http://bit.ly/18vnhLV ).

"We don't want somebody with bad driving behaviors to be able to participate in diversion programs around the state and nobody knows how many they've participated in," Otto said. "If someone gets to participate in diversion in one county that's doing this program, and then the next day they're in a different city that has this program, their driving records are scattered all over."

The view is different, though, in sheriff's offices and police departments that use diversion programs. More than 35 of them operate in cities and counties around the state.

In Buffalo, only people cited for minor moving violations are eligible for the city's Drive Smart program. The typical ticket for minor violations is about $130, Police Chief Mitch Weinzetl said. The class costs $75.

And the course evaluations people fill out after completing the class are almost all positive, the chief said.

"These are people who didn't want to be there, who aren't happy to be held accountable ... and at the end of that session they're saying, 'Wow. This was really valuable to me.' I would challenge the state to find another program that they're in charge of that has those kind of results," he said.

Wabasha County Sheriff Rodney Bartsh said there's nothing new or unusual about a prosecutor exercising discretion over whether to pursue a case. He said the state's real motivation isn't about the law, it's about the money that doesn't go to the state.

Otto's office found local governments have collected about $1.6 million from safe driving programs over the last three years.

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Information from: Minnesota Public Radio News, http://www.mprnews.org


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