HB 786, or the RECLAIM NC Act,  should be called the “Repo” Act.
Most of the attention in the RECLAIM –er, Repo Act — has been focused on a provision that would provide a limited number of undocumented immigrants driver permits, or on the part cribbed from a racist Arizona bill that would allow law enforcement officers to arrest people they “suspect” might be undocumented immigrants.
One overlooked horror in this bill is Part X. This provision would impound and then sell at auction all the cars driven by anyone who is found guilty of driving without a license, whose insurance has lapsed and a few other similar violations.
Last fiscal year, more than 215,000 people were charged with one of those misdemeanors, according to statistics  maintained by the Administrative Office of the Courts. If “Repo” were law in 2012, all the vehicles these people had been driving would have been impounded.
And of those, about 65,000 cars would have been repossessed by the state – e.g. Repo’d –if “Repo” had been law in 2012.
Even if the drivers of the cars would have been found innocent, car owners would still be responsible for towing and impoundment fees under “Repo”, which will put a big dent in the pocketbooks of North Carolina’s families. Last year, the median number of days a case took to be resolved for operating a vehicle with no insurance was 92 days.
That’s three months without a car. And, at $10/day, that’s $920 plus towing, and potentially lawyer’s fees and court fees just to get the car back even if one is innocent.
Such a measure would leaves hundreds of thousands of families with fewer ways to get to work, school or church for at least three months and maybe permanently. This is the case for almost all of the people charged with insurance violations, who mostly are able to go to court and show they have renewed their insurance to get the charges dismissed.
Of course everyone should be properly licensed and insured before getting behind the wheel. But does the punishment really fit the crime?
Even for a first-time offender, Repo would force law enforcement to impound the car if its driver is charged with one of these misdemeanors. There’s no discretion provided in the law. And the repo’d car doesn’t even have to be owned by the driver.
Protections of course exist for lien-holders and innocent car owners. But there aren’t any for slow mail or a boss that won’t pay you on time, or having to rush a child to the emergency room.
Maybe the sponsors of the “Repo Act” should send HB 786 to the chop shop instead of to the House floor.
Misdemeanor motor vehicle charges from FY 2011-2012 that would have triggered HB 786 to impound one’s vehicle*
|Charge||Operate Vehicle No insurance||Permit Operation of Vehicle with No Insurance||No Operators License|
|Number of citations||62,387||2,477||151,062|
|Median length of case||92 days||91 days||84 days|
*Source: Administrative Office of the Courts Misdemeanor Motor Vehicle statistics, Fiscal Year 2011-2012. Because of how AOC keeps its statistics, each of the cases cited are unique so that one person with multiple citations stemming from the same incident is only counted once. For this reason, these statistics are likely an undercount of the total number of citations because in some instances the citation that is documented may not be one of the three mentioned in this chart