OMV sends out 700,000 more letters warning drivers with lapsed insurance to pay fine _lowres

Advocate staff file photo by RICHARD ALAN HANNON -- Louisiana State Police superintendent Col. Mike Edmonson in 2014.

A month after Louisiana’s Office of Motor Vehicles sent out 1.2 million pre-collection notices to drivers with lapsed auto insurance — causing an outcry over what some residents called a money grab by the state — the agency sent 700,000 new letters Friday warning delinquent drivers they are one step closer to being forced to pay up.

State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson called a news conference Monday in keeping with his promise, he said, of alerting drivers that their accounts are being forwarded to the state’s collections agency, the Office of Debt Recovery. This time, he said, he wanted to “do a better job of explaining on the front end.”

Recipients of the 700,000 letters — some of which are repeats of the 1.2 million originally sent — will have 30 days to pay the penalties for expired insurance, he said. Fines range from $125 to $525, according to the initial notices.

Drivers who remain delinquent will receive a third letter giving them 15 days to pay before the ODR begins in early January to use some of its other tools to collect the debts, said Secretary of Revenue Tim Barfield.

Some of ODR’s capabilities include contracting with six outside collections agencies, finding people’s current bank accounts to begin drawing funds owed, and suspending hunting and fishing licenses, he said. The office also can recommend to state professional licensing boards — like those that oversee teaching and real estate licenses — to suspend certifications for certain residents found to owe money, Barfield said.

The OMV has collected $8.155 million of the total $444 million sought since it began sending letters about expired auto insurance Oct. 13, Edmonson said.

The organization has cleared 55,000 accounts. About 39,000 records belonged to people who paid a fee, while some 17,000 records were cleared without payment because the drivers were found to not owe the fines, he said.

Some 330,000 of the initial 1.2 million letters were returned because of old or incorrect addresses, he said.

Much of the controversy about OMV’s mass mailing centered on drivers who said they were being shaken down for fictional insurance infractions or for violations as old as 1986.

Edmonson acknowledged the initial letters — and the backlash — created a “very overwhelming” situation for the OMV and that he hadn’t read the first notices. He conceded the tone of the missives was too stern.

“It could have been better informing of the public,” he said, noting he and his staff worked to rectify the situation, including opening OMV’s offices extra hours to answer complaints.

“I just want to fix it,” he said.

Follow Maya Lau on Twitter, @mayalau.