Judge throws out new law setting state record fees

By JASON NOBLE

JEFFERSON CITY | A Cole County judge has thrown out an attempt by the state legislature to mandate fees for access to motor-vehicle records.

The ruling voids a hastily written law passed last spring, on the grounds that it violated constitutional requirements that a bill have a single subject that is clearly explained in its title.

The bill to which lawmakers added the language related solely to property-tax issues.

At issue is a planned technological upgrade for databases containing motor-vehicle and driver records kept by the state Department of Revenue.

The department recently entered into an agreement with BearingPoint Inc., a technology consulting firm, to upgrade its database systems. To finance the project, the department and the company agreed to charge $7 for each record accessed through the new system, with no discount for bulk purchases.

That upset auto insurers and other companies that purchase records on a regular basis to update insurance rates and track vehicle histories, among other purposes. The companies were accustomed to buying records in bulk for less than a penny per record, and said the change would put them out of business in Missouri.

Responding to the businesses’ concerns, lawmakers in the final week of the legislative session amended an existing property-tax bill to restrict bulk record prices to half a cent per record.

BearingPoint sued in July to have the law overturned.

“What we were trying to do was make sure the Department of Revenue had the flexibility to calculate the true cost of creating a record, and not be bound by what the legislature said it should be,” said Chuck Hatfield, a Jefferson City attorney representing BearingPoint.

Even with Monday’s ruling, however, the department cannot charge the $7 per record as planned.

In June, another Cole County judge ruled that the $7 fee violated the state’s Sunshine Law, which prohibits the state from charging anymore for a record than the copy costs and staff time required to produce it.

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