West Virginia’s State Senate Bill SB 657 was set to boost fees for accident reports and add an additional $50 fee for drunk drivers involved in car accidents. The money collected from the fees was destined to assist West Virginians withtraumatic brain injuries with necessary services. A week ago, Senate Financial Committee Chairman Walt Helmick requested that the additional charges for DUI offenders be removed from the proposed legislation.
The Charleston Gazette reported that Helmick said, ‘in a bad economy, he doesn’t want to raise fees on anyone, including drunk drivers.’ Opponents of his removal of the additional DUI fees assert that the fees would have raised about $190,000 per year for brain injury victims. Mike Davis, president of the Brain Injury Association of West Virginia, noted that automobile accidents are ‘a leading cause of brain injuries,’ the Gazette reported. Half of those brain injuries occur in alcohol-related car wrecks, the article added.
‘This fee can help a lot of people who are injured because of other people’s negligence,’ Davis told the Gazette. Since traumatic brain injuries can lead to lifelong symptoms and difficulties, the costs associated with care for brain-injured individuals can be tremendous. However, Davis added that the DUI fees were not ‘an appropriate thing to do. I don’t want to raise taxes or fees,” the Pocahontas County Democrat told reporters.
A Mountain State Justice lawyer, Jennifer Wagner, expressed support for the bill, but was disappointed that the DUI fines were being removed from it. She asserted that the fees would not only generate income for brain-injury patients, but it would also deter drunk driving and force drunk drivers to ‘pay for the consequences of their actions,’ the article said. Since drivers make conscious choices to drive while drunk, Wagner believes they should be held responsible, and that the new fees would be an effective way of doing so.
The West Virginia Department of Heath and Human Services is being pushed in court to seek federal Medicaid waivers for traumatic brain injury sufferers. The waiver would allow the patients to receive medical services in their homes instead of being forced into institutional care. Half of the money raised by the brain injury bill would be dedicated to the waiver program and the other half would go to those unqualified to receive the waiver.
Knezevich, Alison. (March 2, 2010) ‘Senate panel removes DUI penalties from brain-injury bill.’ Retrieved on March 3, 2010 from the Charleston Gazette Web site:http://sundaygazettemail.com/News/201003020777