Thousands of Louisiana motorists were unfairly charged late car and truck registration fees because of a computer glitch in a state office, a legislative leader said Thursday.
Any such “late” fees should be waived or returned to motorists, state Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Joe McPherson said.
“I am trusting that you will remedy this unfair situation,” McPherson said in a letter to Nick Gautreaux, commissioner for the state Office of Motor Vehicles.
McPherson said the trouble stemmed from a computer problem that prevented renewal notices from being sent because mailing addresses could not be verified.
Gautreaux said, starting Friday, his office will decide on a case-by-case basis whether motorists are entitled to a waiver for any erroneous late charges.
He said the average late penalty is $3 for the registration card and sticker, which is attached to the license plate.
After McPherson raised complaints, the Jindal administration said any late penalties paid erroneously would be automatically refunded.
The Senate Transportation Committee is also scheduled to hold a hearing on the issue at 1 p.m. Aug. 18.
McPherson said the renewal notices are typically sent 60 days before they expire.
But he said officials failed to send renewals to 30 to 40 percent of those due in June because of a software problem in the Office of Motor Vehicles, known as OMV.
McPherson said exactly how many motorists were unfairly charged is unclear. He said he thought the number of those affected is “in the thousands.”
Another estimate put the number at up to 10,000.
“Some citizens may have not gotten them but we are not going to send them to the wrong address,” said Gautreaux, himself a former state senator.
McPherson said he thought officials discovered the computer problem in March.
That affected the ability of the state office to verify the addresses of some vehicle owners, a step needed before the notice is sent.
“I can safely say that all of the citizens of the state have come to rely upon notice from OMV that their vehicle registration needs to be renewed,” McPherson said in his letter.
Gautreaux said around noon on Friday motorists can check the expresslane.org website if they think they were unfairly charged.
He said the site will have an “alert box” where customers can seek a waiver by submitting their vehicle identification number, license plate number and name.
Gautreaux said each case has to be reviewed because some motorists actually owe late fees, such as those whose vehicle insurance was canceled.
In addition, State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson said Thursday night his office on Friday will also start reviewing cases to make sure the state errs on the side of any motorist who were unfairly charged.
Edmonson said the office hoped to have the computer glitch fixed within the next few weeks. In the meantime, he has ordered the OMV to stop assessing late fees until the problem is corrected.
McPherson said the committee also wants answers on how late fees already paid can be refunded.
The Woodworth Democrat said the computer problem may have also affected the renewal of some driver’s licenses.
Gautreaux said, since the software problem was discovered, his office has pursued a new computer program that has shown a 93 percent accuracy rate in verifying addresses before registration renewals are mailed.
Last year McPherson got into a dispute with the Office of Motor Vehicles after it added a 70 percent increase in the driver’s license fee.
McPherson later sponsored a bill that won final approval to repeal the increase and those who had already paid it got refunds.