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Home | Newsroom | Miscellaneous | Editorial: Amnesty helps, but California fee trap still preys on the poor

Editorial: Amnesty helps, but California fee trap still preys on the poor

With its pointless punitive cycle of fines and late fees, California’s traffic ticket system has long been a source of oppression for millions of motorists, burdening them with mounting debt they can’t pay and depriving them of the driving privileges they need to remain employed.

It’s a double-whammy that someone had to put the brakes on. Kudos to Gov. Jerry Brown and Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Los Angeles, for doing just that with an amnesty program that launched last week.

Most important, drivers who lost their licenses because they couldn’t afford to pay will be able to get their driving privileges reinstated immediately. And under a separate bill Brown signed into law, motorists can now fight their tickets in court before paying their fines.

That’s the good news.

The bad news — indeed, the tone-deaf news — is that anyone who takes part in the program still might have to pay a $50 court “amnesty fee.” And the Department of Motor Vehicles will levy another $55 fee for anyone who wants his or her license reinstated.

As it stands now, more than 4 million Californians have lost their driving privileges because they weren’t able to pay a ticket, according to a report from the Western Center on Law and Poverty. Many of those same people are now trapped in a cycle of debt and poverty, which benefits neither the state nor anyone else.

It no wonder then that California — like Ferguson, Mo., the poster-child for padding its government budget with money from the poor — has come under such criticism from advocates for both the poor and minorities.

According to the Western Center report, California has over $10 billion in uncollected court-ordered debt and uses the heavy fines as a source of revenue. The state issues stiff fines for traffic infractions in the first place, and it then it tacks on ridiculous fees and assessments that can quadruple the original fine.
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