Sen. Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys) has authored legislation to prevent the automatic suspension of driver’s licenses for people who are unable to pay fines or fees for minor traffic citations. The legislation will also require courts to determine a violator’s ability to pay before establishing fines.
SB 185 stipulates that economic status shouldn’t determine an individual’s access to justice. Additionally, previously suspended licenses must be reinstated for individuals who make a good faith effort to begin payment plans.
“It’s in everyone’s best interest to give Californians who are struggling to make ends meet a chance to keep their driver’s licenses, keep their jobs and pay off traffic ticket fines,” Hertzberg said. “We want all people, regardless of their income level, to be able to pay their debts and move on with their lives.”
Gov. Jerry Brown endorsed the idea in his proposed budget for the 2017-18 fiscal year. “There does not appear to be a strong connection between suspending someone’s driver’s license and collecting their fine or penalty,” Brown said. “Often, the primary consequence of a driver’s license suspension is the inability to legally drive to work or take one’s children to school.”
Hertzberg said increasing court fines, fees and penalties for minor offenses have proven to be especially burdensome for low-income individuals who sometimes lose their driver’s licenses, jobs and freedom because they cannot pay a traffic fine, or failed to appear for a court hearing. A New Jersey study found that 42 percent of people whose driver’s licenses were suspended lost their jobs as a result of the suspension.
According to a report issued last year by the U.S. Federal Reserve, 46 percent of Americans don’t have $400 to pay for an emergency expense and would have to sell something or borrow money to cover the cost. Traffic tickets often cost hundreds of dollars and can exceed $400, depending on the offense.
“We have to quit punishing people simply for being poor, and unfortunately, that’s what our justice system often does with high fines and fees for minor traffic offenses,” Hertzberg said.
The bill is sponsored by a coalition of social justice groups that includes the Western Center on Law and Poverty and the American Civil Liberties Union of California.
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