Brooks says it’s too early for repeal of law dealing with uninsured drivers
By Christie Southern, eCapitol
State Sen. Corey Brooks, R-Washington, said Wednesday it’s too early to think about repealing a bill aimed at reducing Oklahoma’s rate of uninsured motorists, despite concern from some law enforcement agencies that the law may not be working as intended.
Brooks was urged during an interim study at the State Capitol to consider repealing House Bill 1792, which allows law enforcement officials to remove the tag from an uninsured vehicle and replace it with a temporary sticker. Once the offender pays the required fees and fines and purchases insurance, his or her tag is returned.
The bill took effect in 2013 and since then has been used sparingly by law enforcement, according to Capt. Randy Rogers, legislative liaison for the Department of Public Safety.
Rogers told lawmakers during the study that the law presented a safety concern for many troopers, hence its lack of use by troopers.
Rogers said, given today’s climate and people’s attitude on police, he would be hesitant to direct his officers to remove tags from uninsured vehicles, especially in the middle of the night, because the officer would then lose sight of the offender while he is removing the tag.
Ordering the individual to remove his or her own tag also presents a problem because an officer would be handing the perpetrator a weapon.
Grady County Sherriff Jim Weir fired back saying that not utilizing the provisions of the bill only contribute to Oklahoma’s uninsured rates. Weir said the law is readily used in Grady County by his officers, as it also helps contribute to their dwindling budget.
Rep. Bobby Cleveland, R-Slaughterville, called for a repeal of the law, prompting Brooks to say he would consider it, but following Wednesday’s discussions, he said in an interview, “I don’t think we’re ready to repeal it just yet but I think we can work on some tweaks depending on what comes out of some these other things.”
The interim study revolved around finding solutions to Oklahoma’s uninsured motorists’ rate, which currently sits at around 25 percent — one of the highest in the nation.
The bill, authored by Brooks, and Rep. Mike Christian, R-Oklahoma City, sought to lower the number of uninsured motorists over the long-term while providing minimum liability insurance in the short-term at no cost to the state.
“Some (law enforcement) agencies are gung ho about it, some are a little skeptical and some just don’t know because they haven’t given it a shot,” Brooks said.
Brooks said about 20 sheriff departments and around 53 individual local offices use it.
“That’s almost a fourth of law enforcement that is using it to some degree,” he said. “OHP is using it too, to some degree, and its working for them fairly well. It’s not as widespread as we had hoped but I think something came out of today that we may be able to tweak to make the law more applicable.”
Some of those tweaks include the possibility of amending the law to remove the middle man. The statute requires local law enforcement agencies to report seized plates and tags to the sheriff’s office.
“We did it that way so that there would be some kind of a belly button in each county so the small departments wouldn’t have to do it, something like that,” Brooks explained. “They could drop it off at their sheriff’s office and just be done because they may have one or two people total (to process seized tags). But it sounds like some of the agencies would just as soon keep it in house.”
The suggestion to remove that secondary layer was made by Ray McNair, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Sherriff’s Association. Allowing the individual offices to do this would result in added financial benefits and often times, for more rural areas, would be more convenient, he said.
It was also suggested that Brooks consider reducing the fee structure. Rogers said it was counterproductive to charge someone struggling to pay for car insurance with a $250 citation.
Most widely discussed was the idea of investing a system that provides real-time verification of insurance for law enforcement. The state’s current system was heavily criticized Wednesday for being unreliable.
This would require the state to pay for a whole new system that updates insurance verification in real-time and then phase out the old one. Another solution was to install a county-by-county camera system structured around the state’s highways.
The idea, Brooks said, was for the state to have the most up to date data possible.
“The veracity of the data you’re pulling from the system seems to be the long pole in the tent,” Brooks said. “If that’s good, you can do all sorts of things. If it’s not, and you need a guy on the ground at the