Hertzberg Aims to Roll Back Unfair Traffic Fines, Penalties with 2 New Bills

SB 881 and SB 882 follow 2015 legislation that helped establish a traffic amnesty program, continue efforts to lift people out of poverty and rebuild the middle class

January 19, 2016

SACRAMENTO – Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, has introduced two bills designed to protect poor and disadvantaged violators of minor traffic or transit offenses from unfair fines or penalties that can undermine their ability to hold a job or stay in school.

The measures are part of Hertzberg’s ongoing efforts to lift people out of poverty, rebuild the middle class and improve California’s justice system.

SB 881 prohibits the suspension of a driver’s license for minor offenses, such as failure to appear in court or inability to pay a traffic fine. More than 4 million Californians have suspended driver’s licenses for a failure to appear or pay, according to a 2015 study conducted by the Western Center on Law and Poverty. Many, in turn, end up losing their jobs.

SB 882 prevents a public transit authority from banning minors from purchasing or receiving a transit pass because they have a prior fare-evasion ticket. Transit fare evasion is the No. 1 cause of juvenile citations in Los Angeles County, according to Los Angeles County Probation Department. Blocking people from riding public transit can prevent them from getting to school or a job, and it can encourage more fare-evasion violations or other criminal conduct. 

“For too long, we’ve allowed the fines and penalties for minor offenses to snowball out of control, and now we have a system in which an inability to pay can cost a person his or her driver’s license or bus pass and the ability to hold a job or stay in school,” Hertzberg said. “We must roll back these overly harsh penalties if we want to give people a fair chance to make amends without pushing them deeper into poverty.”

The legislation follows Hertzberg’s landmark measure, SB 405, and Gov. Jerry Brown’s related budget proposal that together established a new traffic amnesty program on Oct. 1. The program allows people to talk to a judge if they want to before paying fines, restores driver’s licenses to those with a payment plan and reduces exorbitant fee debts by taking a person’s income into account.

Across the country, rising court fines, fees and penalties for minor offenses have proved especially burdensome to the poor and working poor, who can end up losing their driver’s licenses , jobs and freedom – sometimes going to jail – simply because they could not pay a fine or failed to appear. 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.

This approach is not only unfair and insensitive to people of modest means, it is bad for the economy, Hertzberg said.

“We must encourage – not discourage – people to follow the law,” Hertzberg said. “Furthermore, we must support people who are working jobs and going to school, and not allow excessive penalties that pull the rug out from under them.”

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Bob Hertzberg, chair of the Senate Committee on Governance and Finance, represents nearly 1 million San Fernando Valley residents of Senate District 18, which includes part of Burbank and the following communities in Los Angeles: Arleta, Granada Hills, Hansen Dam, Lake View Terrace, Mission Hills, North Hills, North Hollywood, part of Northridge, Pacoima, Panorama City, Sherman Oaks, Studio City, part of Sun Valley, Sylmar, Toluca Lake, Valley Glen, Valley Village, Van Nuys, the City of San Fernando and Universal City. See a district map at http://sd18.senate.ca.gov/district.  After serving in the Assembly from 1996-2002, including two years as Speaker, Hertzberg invested in solar, wind and electric-car projects; and worked for structural changes in government through the Think Long Committee of California. Learn more at www.senate.ca.gov/hertzberg.

MEDIA CONTACT: Andrew LaMar
Communications Director
Senator Robert M. Hertzberg
Capitol Building, Room 4038
Sacramento, CA 95814
(916) 651-4018

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