Header, the Administration of the Honorable Lincoln C. Almond
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July 3, 1998


I am transmitting to the Secretary of State, with my signature, 98-S 3176, Substitute B, As Amended, "An Act Entitled the Rhode Island Traffic Safety and Accountability Act of 1998."

This Act abolishes the Administrative Adjudication Court on July 1, 1999. It immediately turns over to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and his designees interim management of the court for one year to implement controls and improvements. The Act shifts the operator control, medical review, and driver retraining operations and resources to the Registry of Motor Vehicles where these administrative functions clearly belong. The bill also replaces retired life-tenured traffic court judges, if needed, with traffic magistrates appointed with senate confirmation for a period of eight years at significantly lower pay than their predecessor judges. These measures constitute a good first step in the necessary reform of traffic adjudication in Rhode Island. More, however, needs to be done.

Although this Act contains an abolition date for the Administrative Adjudication Court, the bill does not provide a new home for traffic adjudication after July 1,1999-The broadly supported solution to this dilemma is to make the District Court the proper forum for this important government function during the next legislative session. This legislation should make the traffic court a division of the District Court.-Also, a judge of the District Court should hear appeals from traffic judges and magistrates, and magistrates should be subject to the merit selection provisions of § 8-16.1 el seq. and the scrutiny of the Judicial Nominating Commission. Further, these traffic judges and magistrates should not be eligible for assignment to any higher tribunal than the traffic division of the District Court.

Moreover, the bill should include the previous proposal to consolidate or "bundle" all offenses arising from a single traffic incident in the court with jurisdiction over the most serious offense. This will prevent the necessity for motorists to defend related actions in as many as three separate courthouses. The Act should also itemize specific management measures to be addressed by the Chief Justice, including the enlargement of operating hours, the implementation of payment systems utilizing credit or debit cards, specific financial controls and electronic cash registers, reduced fines and assessments and a possible amnesty period on certain offenses, increasing the number of regional hearings, writing off stale receivables and testing privatization of collections.

These goals were identified by the Task Force which studied all aspects of the Administrative Adjudication Court. Its recommendation^ were based on the analysis of the National Center for State Courts which proposed these additional measures as central and critical to successful reform of traffic adjudication in our State. I will closely follow this issue through the next General Assembly session to help ensure that these important steps are taken at the earliest opportunity.

For the foregoing reasons, I sign this bill into law.


Lincoln Almond