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California State Bill Would Ease Burden Of Traffic Ticket Fines On The Poor

Californians who cannot afford to pay their traffic tickets may soon get relief.

State lawmakers are reviewing SB 185, which would allow judges to reduce ticket fines up to 80 percent based on a person’s income.

Several people in San Diego County told KPBS in January they felt they were being punished solely because they did not have the money to cover traffic fines. In some cases, the inability to pay drove their traffic debt into the thousands of dollars.

“Large fines for minor traffic infractions force many people to go into debt and lose their driver’s licenses, and that can result in them losing their jobs,” said Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, who authored SB 185. “That’s a punishment that doesn’t fit the offense. This legislation restores basic fairness and common sense to fines and fees for minor traffic offenses.”

A new law that took effect this month bars the automatic suspension of driver’s licenses for people who can’t afford traffic fines. SB 185 would restore licenses to thousands of people unable to pay before July 1, as long as they begin a payment plan.

Mike Herald, legislative advocate for the Western Center on Law and Poverty, said SB 185 is vital to California drivers.

“Though the state budget ended license suspension for being too poor to pay tickets, we still need to make the payment plans affordable for all Californians and reduce the cost of the tickets on the poorest so that traffic court debt doesn’t cause people to miss rent payments, put food on the table for kids and keep the lights on so they can study,” Herald said.

A Federal Reserve report out last year found that 46 percent of Americans don’t have $400 in savings to pay for an emergency expense. Depending on the offense, traffic fines can run in the hundreds of dollars.

“I felt like the commissioner was almost cold, almost robotic,” Lahmann said. “Kind of no sympathy. No empathy.”

His license was suspended and he said it took almost one year to pay off the ticket and fines.

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