GUEST PRESS RELEASE: Traffic ticket amnesty program helping thousands of low-income drivers clear old, outstanding citations

SB 405 by Sen. Bob Hertzberg cited

October 30, 2015

LOS ANGELES – A recently enacted statewide traffic-ticket amnesty program spearheaded by Senate Democrats is bringing relief to thousands of low-income California drivers who have been dogged for years by outstanding traffic-ticket fines and “failure to appear” citations.

“Millions of Californians have lost their driving privileges because they couldn’t afford to pay a traffic ticket,” said Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles). “When folks must choose between rent, food for their family, or paying a traffic ticket that could be more than twelve times their hourly wage, the choice becomes clear. We’re providing amnesty to qualified drivers so they can get their licenses back and move on with their lives.” 

Under the amnesty program, eligible participants will not have to pay penalty assessments, which can inflate to $400 or more the base cost of a $100 citation. The remaining balance will be reduced by 50 to 80 percent, depending on income or if the participant receives public assistance. An installment payment option is available for those who cannot afford one lump payment.

Initially introduced in SB 405 (Hertzberg), Governor Jerry Brown incorporated much of the amnesty program in his 2015-16 budget proposal. Senator De León successfully argued to expand the Governor’s budget proposal to include the 80 percent payment reduction for low-income participants and the installment option.

“A simple traffic fine should not economically devastate the many families living paycheck to paycheck, or cause a young college student to drop out of school,” said Senator Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys) as he presented SB 405 on the Senate floor this summer.

The amnesty program began October 1 and continues through March 31, 2017. Los Angeles County has logged more than 91,000 phone calls, received nearly 40,000 amnesty applications, and addressed nearly 9,000 citations in the program’s first 21 days.

Unpaid tickets and related “failure to appear violations” with an initial payment due date on or before January 1, 2013 are eligible. Parking citations, tickets for reckless driving and driving under the influence are not eligible. Those with questions about eligibility should contact the Superior Court in the county where the citation was issued.

Meanwhile, Attorney General Kamala Harris issued a consumer alert this week, warning against debt collectors giving inaccurate information about the amnesty program. According to the alert, debt collectors who are managing the program for some counties are not telling eligible consumers about the potential for amnesty or giving out misleading or false information about program eligibility.

“It’s bad enough that our system preyed upon those who can least afford to pay ridiculously high fees on minor tickets,” Senator Hertzberg said in a release praising the action. “With shysters looking for a quick buck, Harris’ efforts to raise public awareness about who qualifies for reduced fines and warning the public about unscrupulous debt collectors can only help working Californians stay behind the wheel.”

While the amnesty program has thus far been a success, it is considered a stop-gap measure, said Senator De León. Finding a “durable solution” will require addressing penalty assessments that can significantly increase the base cost of a traffic fine, he said.

Penalty assessments generate nearly $200 million annually and support a variety of programs, including emergency medical services, victim restitution, peace officer training, and court operations and construction.

This May, Senators De León and Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley) sent letters to the Judicial Council and Legislative Analyst Office, asking for recommendations for a more “rational fine structure” and suggested alternative revenue sources for the programs currently supported by penalty assessments.

“We are taking a holistic view of our current traffic-citation system and seeking a just and durable solution to address the inequity and unfairness it places on the poor,” said Senator De León.

For a list of superior courts with phone numbers and links to their amnesty program website see: https://www.dmv.ca.gov/portal/dmv/detail/home/amnestyproginfo

The Judicial Council has also posted information about the amnesty program, available at: http://www.courts.ca.gov/trafficamnesty.htm

To file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office about a debt collector giving misleading information about the program see: https://oag.ca.gov/contact/consumer-complaint-against-business-or-company

CONTACT: Claire.Conlon@sen.ca.gov or (916) 651-4024

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