Facing a chorus of fury over the Louisiana Office of Motor Vehicle’s mass mailing last week to recoup millions of dollars in fines for car insurance lapses, a top state official said Thursday the agency won’t pursue some of the older claims against drivers.
Col. Mike Edmonson, State Police superintendent and overseer of the OMV, softened his approach toward fines for old infractions — the letters were for violations as far back as 1986 — saying the state won’t pursue any lapses older than 2006 that the agency couldn’t absolutely prove were insurance abuses.
Violations from before 2006 account for about 25 percent of the 1.2 million letters sent, he said. People with infractions from that earlier period should still contact the agency to try to work on clearing their records, he said.
The letters provoked outrage this week, with many recipients saying the OMV line was dropping calls and call takers were demanding money, even after drivers proved they shouldn’t owe a fine.
Edmonson said he has extended OMV’s call-answering hours from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. this week, including Saturday and Sunday, for as many days as necessary to manage the high volume of complaints. He’s also planning to open some 15 OMV offices across the state from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. over the weekend to handle walk-ins, he said.
Many of those angry over the Oct. 13 “delinquent debt” notices say they sold their vehicles or moved out of state, canceling their Louisiana auto insurance as a result. This prompted Louisiana’s OMV to think the automobiles were still being driven in the state without insurance, they said. The notices threaten that overdue fines of up to $525 could go to a collection agency and may result in drivers’ professional licenses being revoked if they remain unpaid.
But Edmonson said the OMV’s records come from information provided by auto insurance companies.
“We don’t just arbitrarily do stuff,” he said.
On Thursday, Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon slammed the OMV and Jindal administration leadership for the letters, calling the solicitation an ill-advised scramble to plug a hole in the state’s budget.
Donelon, who faces three challengers in Saturday’s election, said in a news release, “The way that this has been handled is fundamentally unfair. For years, the state has failed to collect fines. Now, years later, the average citizen likely does not have the documents to prove that they had insurance one way or the other. No one keeps proof of insurance from a decade ago.”
Edmonson said he did not want to engage in an exchange over Donelon’s comments.
Donelon, whose job is to regulate the insurance industry in Louisiana, questioned whether drivers should trust the OMV’s records. He said people should contact Gov. Bobby Jindal’s office with grievances in addition to the OMV.
“How can any reasonable person defend themselves from an alleged infraction 10 years ago? And why should any of us assume that the records are accurate and correct?” Donelon asked in the release.
Edmonson implored the public to be patient as the OMV works through each complaint. The department soon will issue a form online and through regular mail to expedite the process, he said.
“My job is to fix things,” Edmonson said.
Follow Maya Lau on Twitter, @mayalau.