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Louisiana drivers facing fines for lapsed insurance getting some relief

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BATON ROUGE - For years, people have been facing large fines for lapsed insurance. Pending the governor's signature, the Louisiana Office of Motor Vehicles is making some changes intended to help people who owe large fines.

The purpose of the fines is to encourage people to get and retain car insurance. The fines have sent many people into serious debt and never-ending payment plans. Thousands of people owe anywhere from $125 to $30,000.

"I think it may have gotten out of control," said OMV Commissioner Dan Casey.

Casey says HB683 will reel things in for delinquent drivers who have fines that have ballooned out of their reach.

"It allows us to reset the fines back to the original fine they were charged with," he said.

Casey says the OMV has about $477 million in unpaid debt. A lot of it - $220 million - is old debt dating beyond 2016. That's going to be wiped out.

"The rest of the fines are going to get reset and we'll renegotiate with the consumer to get them back licensed and legal on the street," said Casey.

It will also put a cap on how much drivers could owe.

Casey provided an example of one driver who owes about $15,780. When the fines are reset to the original amount, it will drop what that person owes to $1,630.

A law passed in 2015 gave the OMV authority to collect the fines. Soon after, the agency mailed out more than a million letters to collect that debt. In 2016, delinquent drivers were allowed to apply for a payment plan to whittle down those fines monthly. If the fines go unpaid, they're sent to the Office of Debt Recovery, where they rack up more fees.

"It affects about a half million folks that have stops on their licenses," said Casey.

Those people sent to the ODR have "flags" on their driver's licenses. They can legally drive, but until that debt is paid off they cannot renew their driver's license or registration.

The reset will happen gradually. While the OMV is dealing with an older system the cases will be handled one at a time until everything can be moved to a newer system.

"We're going to hopefully get these cleared for you and get you back on the road without this burden on your back," said Casey.

The OMV now has more people answering phones and people can take care of their fines in person at an OMV office with an appointment, instead of only over the phone. Once the bill becomes law, people who are currently on a payment plan will get an email with an addendum to their contract reflecting the new amount.

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